Musical Menus



My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, says that she has never met a musician who isn’t also a good cook. One could argue that music and cooking speak to similar human instincts.


Both involve the physical body but go far beyond the physical tasks they entail. Both are forms of nonverbal communication. Both take something written down or at the very least maintained by tradition (sheet music/musical forms, recipes/styles of cooking) and make something new and unique every time we engage in them.


Both are human activities that emphasize process as well as product.


So it’s not surprising that when I was asked to write about the 40th anniversary season of Mohawk Trail Concerts my mind turned to food. (All right, I admit it: my mind turns to food a lot anyway. But this time it’s appropriate!)


Founded in 1969 by violinist and composer Arnold Black, the concert series sprang from Arnie’s passion for the acoustics of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. That love quickly grew to encompass the church community. Numerous church suppers and artists’ receptions (not to mention 40 seasons of concerts!) followed.


Arnie Black is now dead, but his wife Ruth and her fellow artistic director Abba Bogin continue the concerts’ commitment to good music, good community relations, and good food.


Younger music lovers who grew up listening to the concerts have now become involved in the series. MTC president Chas Fox of Heath is a second-generation board member.


When I asked him about his earliest memory of the concerts, he recalled hearing pianist Marian McPartland play when he was a teenager listening to a concert from the church’s choir loft. “I was literally sitting behind her as she played,” he said with a touch of awe in his voice. “I remember her playing a jazz interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ at the request of Sandy Black [Arnold and Ruth’s son], who was a Beatles fan.”


Chas was hooked from then on. When he was asked to join the board a couple of years ago he jumped at the chance. “I was thrilled to be invited because my dad was on the board and was president of Mohawk Trail Concerts in the early days,” he told me last week. “Because of changes in my career I now had a significant amount of time on my hands and thought this would be a wonderful thing to do, to get involved in the community.”


“I’m not an expert on chamber music,” he admitted. “I call the meetings, I run the meetings, and that’s what I’m good at. I also prepare the program book.”


Concertgoers know that he does more. His playful introductions to each concert establish the informal tone that is one of MTC’s trademarks. They also set the stage for the musical musings of Ruth Black, Abba Bogin, and the evening’s performers.


Just to show that food is never far from the minds of the MTC board, Chas often models aprons adorned with MTC’s logo for the crowd, encouraging audience members to go home and make food (and perhaps music!) while thinking of the series.

Chas in apronweb


In honor of the concerts’ anniversary I am going to offer a few (tangentially!) relevant recipes here. All relate to aspects of this season’s program, which Chas justly calls “spectacular.”


The first is from Chas himself. He has allowed me to reprint the formula for the “Bean There, Done That” pudding with which he hit the finals two years ago in the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. It takes the traditional green-bean casserole to new heights with the addition of local mushrooms from grower Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles.


Enjoy the recipes and the ones to come—and if you’re in western Massachusetts please enjoy the music as well! MTC will offer concerts on Friday evenings at 7:30 and Saturdays at 8:00 until the end of July. For more details call the concert office at 413-625-9511.



Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles

Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles


Bean There, Done That




for the sauce:


2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup vegetable broth (preferably made with the stems of your mushrooms and other veggies)
1/2 cup half and half
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 splash sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


for the pudding:


3 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger (about 4 cents’ worth at Avery’s general store)
3 cups cut and cooked green beans
3 cups mushrooms (preferably local mushrooms), cut into strips (these could also be diced, which might make for a slightly smoother pudding)


for assembly:


1 can (2.8 ounces) fried onion rings




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


First, prepare the sauce: Melt the butter, and whisk in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.


Whisk in the broth a little at a time, and bring the mixture to a boil, continuing to stir. Lower the heat, and cook for 2 more minutes. Whisk in the half and half, soy sauce, and sherry; cook just until the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sesame oil.


Now assemble the pudding: Combine all the ingredients except for the onion rings. Stir in half of the onion rings.


Place the pudding in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a 2-quart casserole dish.  Bake for 25 minutes or until warmed through. Sprinkle the remaining onion rings on top, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.


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