ROCKPORT — Put on your woolies and mittens for an off-season walk around this historic seaside spot at the tip of Cape Ann. The town of 7,000, with charming Victorian homes, juts forward like the figurehead at the prow of a ship facing the sea. Rockport, which has a small fishing industry, is home to artists and the beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center, open year-round. These days there are few tourists and plenty of parking.
Wander up Bearskin Neck, past the gift shops and galleries, to a surround of stone boulders and a long breakwater that invite you to sit, inhale, and take in the view. Walk back toward Bradley Wharf and one of the most photographed scenes in Massachusetts: fishing boats and lobster buoys bobbing against the backdrop of a red wooden building known as Motif No. 1.
Christmas in Rockport (www.rockportusa.com) offers plenty of activities. The town is easy to reach from North Station; a commuter rail takes you to Rockport Station, which is a 10-minute walk to town. Wander among the shops, which are all decked out for the holidays.
The French doors of Lula’s Pantry, a chic light-filled shop that stocks kitchenware, pottery, and food, open to a view of the harbor year-round. Joan Jackson matte-glazed stoneware, made in the green and blue colors of the ocean, comes in soup bowls to serving pieces ($9-$175).
Intricate sea creatures adorn melamine plates. A lobster platter ($32) could do dual duty for serving and hanging on a wall. Scourtins, locally made olive shortbread wafers ($5.95 for 6 ounces) are deliciously buttery. Use the nautical Cape Ann map napkins ($6.50 for 50) to catch crumbs. 5 Dock Square, 978-546-0010,www.lulaspantry.wordpress.com
“Everyone forgets we are here year-round,” says Dawn Noble, owner of La Provence, a French tableware shop. Seven years ago the former waitress bought the store and “took all of my money and sent it to France.” She stocks Provencal table linens (from $68), striking jacquard cloths (from $98) and dish towels ($14.95) in vibrant colors. There is a variety of La Rochere glassware with its bee motif from a butter dish ($18) to a carafe ($32). Noble carries stunning giclee prints of fruit and vegetables on 10-inch square canvasses (starting at $70) by Somerville artist Bill Chisholm.
Not French, but they make a smashing compliment to the other accessories. 4 Main St., Rockport, 978-546-5868,www.laprov.com
Situated on the harbor, Rockport Fudgery is the kind of old-fashioned spot where double handled copper pots are used for making the fudge are set along one wall.
Milk, cream, butter, sugar, and flavorings are heated, cooled, and mixed with wooden paddles. High school student Jack Fritz works part time as a fudge-whipper and has the muscles to prove it. Manager Leonard Desilets explains that fudge is an American invention, an accident that happened on the way to making caramel. There are 20 varieties, including New England-style penuche with brown sugar, seasonal specialties like cranberry, and perennial favorites peanut butter and rocky road. A little fudge goes a long way. 4 Tuna Wharf, Rockport, 978-546-2030, www.rockportfudgery.com
This shop, in a quaint shingled cottage, has been in business for 30 years.
Baker Heike Boettcher says in peak season, the shop produces Austrian strudel about three times a day. The rectangles of flaky puff pastry are vented and filled with apple, cherry, or sweet cheese ($2 for a slice, $8.50 for a log to serve four). A big brown pastry-loving dog plants himself in front of the Helmut’s Strudel shop and has to be taken away by his owner. “No, we are not going for strudel,” says the man. Apparently everyone loves Helmut’s. 69 Bearskin Neck, Rockport,
Brothers’ Brew Coffee Shop
Warm up with a satisfying cup of Joe, ground from the beans of a New Hampshiremicro roaster, or choose from a list of loose leaf teas. Brothers Ross and Marc Brackett are hometown boys with a passion for detail. The contemporary interior has a counter with several tables. A white board has a handwritten menu of sandwiches and wraps. Pastries are legendary. Rockport once had a large Finnish population who came to work in the stone quarries in the 19th and 20th centuries. Try the Norwegian coffee bread ($2) or the Finnish nisu bread (see recipe below), two toasted and buttered slices sprinkled with cinnamon sugar ($1.50) or doughnuts (94 cents). Yes, all those prices are right. 27 Main St., Rockport, 978-546-3775
Recipe for Finnish cardamom bread
Makes 2 loaves
Also called pulla or nisu, these braided loaves are scented with cardamom, used in pastries across many Nordic cultures. The sweet yeast dough can be braided and baked in loaf pans or made into a ring. Buy ground cardamom or green cardamom pods. Crush the pods and remove the little black seeds. Place them in a mortar and pestle and pulverize into a powder. It makes an aromatic addition to the bread, well worth the effort. Stale bread turns into delicious French toast, sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar. I found this beautifully handwritten recipe on a card in my recipe box. It was given to me by an old friend, Nancy Adams about 35 years ago. The bread comes from a good home baker in Milwaukee that she knew. Nancy also gave me a beautiful antique bread bowl, which I use for mixing and rising dough all the time. Whenever I set the dough into the center of the bowl, I wonder who owned this bowl and how many loaves of bread they baked for their family.
||Canola oil (for the pans and bowl)
||packages active dry yeast
||cup warm water
||cup whole milk
||cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
||eggs, beaten to mix
||teaspoon ground or 12 whole cardamom pods, seeds removed and pulverized
||Extra flour (for sprinkling)
||extra egg white
||Extra sugar (for sprinkling)
1. Have on hand two 8½-by-4½-by-2½ loaf pans or 1 large baking sheet. Rub the pans or sheet with oil.
2. In a small bowl, stir together yeast and water; set aside for several minutes.
3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, sugar, salt, and ½ cup butter. Heat until the butter melts. Scrape into a large heatproof bowl. Cool to tepid.
4. Add the yeast mixture and 2 cups of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir well. Stir in the eggs and cardamom. Gradually work in the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time. Stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is sticky, work in up to an additional ½ cup of flour.
5. Dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out and knead it for 8 minutes or until it is smooth.
6. Scrape out the bowl. Pour a little oil into it and add the dough. Turn to coat it all over with oil. Spread the remaining 1 tablespoon butter on the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in bulk.
7. Remove the plastic wrap and lightly compress the dough with your fingers. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in half. Cut each piece into 3 equal pieces. Roll each into a 14-inch rope. Form 2 braids, using 3 ropes for each. If you are making loaves, set them in the loaf pans, tucking under the edges. If you are making rings, place 2 circles on the baking sheet, pinching the ends so they hold together. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or until the dough doubles in bulk.
8. Set the oven at 350 degrees.
9. Discard the wrap on the breads. Beat the egg white to break it up. Brush the breads with the white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
10. Transfer loaves or rings to a wire rack to cool. If you shaped loaves, cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool completely, right-side up, on the rack.