A Centennial Celebration

Arnold Black

Food does much more than nourish us. It connects us to other people, in the present in the past. This week I’m using it to remember Arnold Black (1923-2000) of Charlemont, Massachusetts, and New York City. Arnie was a composer, a violinist, and the founder of our local chamber-music series, Mohawk Trail Concerts. He was also an utter charmer.

Arnie would have turned 100 this year. MTC will honor this special anniversary this Saturday, September 23, at 3 p.m. at the Charlemont Federated Church with a celebration of Arnie Black.

This fundraiser will begin with a concert featuring works composed by, or about Arnie. Those gathered will then move into the church social rooms to share refreshments and anecdotes about him.

The Federated Church is an appropriate location for this tribute. It was there in 1969 that Arnie came up with the idea for the concert series. He and his family were spending the summer at Singing Brook Farm here in Hawley in a cabin called Pudding Hollow.

Our neighbor, composer Alice Parker, asked him to play his violin at the church one Sunday.

Arnie Black lifted his bow that morning to begin a Haydn concerto and quickly discovered what members of the Federated Church had known for more than a century: the sanctuary had magnificent acoustics. (The first time I sang a solo there, I was so impressed with my suddenly fabulous voice that I vowed never to sing in another venue. I’ve broken that vow since, but I never sound quite as good elsewhere as I do in the Federated Church.)

Arnie and his wife Ruth decided that those acoustics warranted a concert series, and in the summer of 1970 Mohawk Trail Concerts was born.

From its first concert, MTC threw musicians and community members together. Folks from the church and the surrounding hills raised money, built stage platforms, and occasionally even performed themselves. They showed that, for them as well as for the professionals, music was something you made and not just something you listened to.

Arnie and Ruth both had outgoing personalities and wonderful senses of humor. They encouraged musicians to linger after the concerts to get to know audience members. That interaction was perhaps MTC’s greatest strength, one that continues to this day.

Returning musicians seem to look forward to the fellowship almost as much as the audience does. In particular, Bolcom and Morris, the duo made up of composer/pianist William Bolcom and mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, have made many friends in our community.

Here I am with Joan and Bill a few years back.

Bill Bolcom always appears a little surprised that I am now grown up. He met me first when I came to the concerts as a child. My parents took me to the very first MTC performance. I have been a loyal audience member ever since, and I have volunteered frequently.

When Arnie died in 2000, Ruth Black took over the concerts. She retired nine years ago and handed the directorship to Mark Fraser. A cellist who lives in Montague, Mark continues the concerts’ traditions of excellent music, humor, and accessibility.

When I was writing my first cookbook, I asked Arnie for a recipe. He gave me his formula for Squash Latkes. I made the latkes last week in preparation for the MTC anniversary party. Being me, I also adapted them into my own version.

Interestingly, the squash disappears in both versions but leaves a little flavor as well as nutritional value. Two people who had known Arnie attended the party at which I served the latkes: composer Alice Parker and violinist Masako Yanagita.

Masako told me she remembered eating them with Arnie many times. For her and Alice, as for me, they represented a taste of a dear, talented man.

Anyone interested in attending the MTC event on the Sept. 23 is encouraged to email info@mohawktrailconcerts.org to reserve a place. The suggested donation is $75, but the public is welcome with a contribution of any amount.

And … just in case you were wondering, I will be singing a couple of songs on the program!

Arnie’s Squash Latkes by Way of “The Steppes of Central Asia”
(to be eaten to Alexander Borodin’s Music of the Same Name)

“My mother was from Russia,” Arnie told me. “She was a great cook, and many of her specialties were derived from the Russian cuisine. Borscht (Hot: tomatoes, cabbage, beef; Cold: beets, sour cream, potatoes), Blini, Blintzes, Stuffed Cabbage, Stroganoffs up and down the Don.

“A vegetable dish which as a child in Philadelphia I found particularly delectable was ‘Squash Latkes,’ or ‘Squash Pancakes.’ She would serve them with a dollop of sour cream. Years later, living alone in New York and cooking for myself, I fondly remembered those wonderful Latkes.

“Thinking they might be within my modest ability, I called my mother for the recipe.”

To make things simpler, I used Bisquick for both recipes because Arnie’s recipe called for it. If you don’t have that mix, use 1 cup flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt for each cup of Bisquick. Add a tablespoon of oil to the wet ingredients.

Ingredients:

2 good-sized summer squash
1 egg
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup milk
2 cups Bisquick, plus a bit more if needed
sour cream as garnish

Instructions:

Grate the squash; place it in a dish towel inside a colander to drain for 15 minutes or so. Place the grated squash in a in a mixing bowl and add the egg. Add the oil, the milk, and then the Bisquick, stirring but not beating. Add a bit more flour or Bisquick if the batter seems runny.

Spoon the batter into pancakes on a very hot, buttered griddle. Turn when bubbles start to appear. Serve with sour cream or maple syrup or both. This recipe serves 4 but can be doubled easily. I made tiny pancakes as an appetizer; I ended up with about 25 little cakes.

Tinky’s Squash Latkes by Way of the Steps of West Hawley
(to be eaten to “The Hawley Song”)

Ingredients:

2 good-sized summer squash
2 eggs, beaten
a handful of dill, broken up into small leaves
1/4 cup finely minced onion (I used red onion for color)
1 cup grated store cheese (aged Cheddar)
1 cup Bisquick
butter or extra-virgin olive oil as needed for frying

Instructions:

Grate the squash; place it in a dish towel inside a colander to drain it for 15 minutes or so.In a bowl, combine the eggs, the dill, the onion pieces, and the cheese. Stir in the squash, followed by the Bisquick.

Spoon the batter into small pancakes on a hot griddle greased with butter or olive oil. Cook until they brown on one side; then flip them over. Makes about 20 little cakes.

Alice samples the latkes.

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5 Responses to “A Centennial Celebration”

  1. Timothy Pyle says:

    Thanks Tink,
    Wish I could be there. Many happy memories of Arnie and Ruth and the concerts at the Federated church. The squash latkes sound delicious! Have a great time and say high to all from me!

  2. Cynthia O'Connor says:

    The latke recipe sounds terrrific! Many happy memories of visits to Hawley.

  3. David Pyle says:

    I remember Arnie & Ruth very clearly. I’ll never forget Arnie telling me once that he begins every day with an attack of conscience. He was a wonderful person with a great sense of humor and the Mohawk Trail Concerts is an impressive legacy. Wish I could be there.

  4. Rose A. Doherty says:

    I am sharing this post about Arnie and the MTC with people who might be able to get there.

    A wonderful tale of music, food, and friends.

  5. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thank you all! And Rose, you’re a peach to share the invitation….

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