If you’ve ever visited Boston, chances are you have taken the Freedom Trail, the 2.5 mile walking tour that winds its way from Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, passing 16 landmarks that are historically significant to the birth of the United States. After departing Faneuil Hall, you arrive in the North End, home to Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church (1 if by land, 2 if by sea) which warned of the impending British invasion, and then cross the bridge to Charlestown and the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument.
The North End and Charlestown are two of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston. A short bridge separates them and their populations were initially fairly similar. Paul Revere lived in the North End and ate and drank in Charlestown at the Warren Tavern. The Old North Church is in the North End, but the “Midnight Ride” to warn of the Red Coats’ attack on Concord, commenced from Charlestown. Over time these two neighborhoods developed distinctly different identities. Working class Irish fleeing the Great Famine settled in Charlestown, and it has retained a large Irish-American population despite gentrification by the upper middle class. The Warren Tavern is now typically full of “yuppies” while “Townies” are more likely to hang out at “Old Sully’s” around the corner. Interestingly, it was another pandemic, Spanish Influenza in 1918, that resulted in the emergence of the North End’s Italian identity. The population was decimated and three Italians opened the Prince Macaroni Company in the all but abandoned neighborhood, serving as a magnet for job seeking Italian immigrants. While still very much Italian, like their neighbor across the bridge, redevelopment and gentrification has changed the fabric of the community today. So why the history lesson and what in the world does this have to do with Cannoli?
Our nephew, and Dennis’s Godson, Billy Lynch LOVES cannoli. How did this Irish kid from Chicago become such a fan? Well, his dad, John, grew up in Charlestown and the family would drive out east to visit with “Nani” and the rest of the Lynch clan each year. Fortunately for us, it usually concluded with a visit to us on the Cape for a few days in the summer, but I digress. The Garden (Gahden), home to the Bruins and Celtics, abuts the North End and is just across the bridge from Charlestown. Naturally, John would take his boys by the Garden and from there they would head to the North End for pizza at Regina’s or another tasty spot followed by a visit to one of the pastry shops on Hanover Street. MIke’s and Modern are institutions, having been established in 1946 and 1930 respectively, and they both proclaim to have the best cannoli in Boston. Billy says he prefers the cannoli from Modern and when I asked why, he said he thinks it’s because the shells held up better after a day or so, since they were usually buying a few boxes to enjoy over several days.
Why, you may ask, would I bother to make cannoli, especially since Mike’s ships nationwide? Well, I had the equipment, plenty of time on my hands and a North End cookbook that my friend and mentor Marie Hatton (nee Borelli) had given me years ago. I thought it would be a nice treat for Billy and the whole Lynch clan for Mothers Day. Honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to do a drive by and have a traditional “coupe champagne” with my sister in law, Julia, since we could not be together for our traditional brunch at the Chicago Club. It was especially important this year, since we sadly lost my mother in law in February and this was the first Mothers Day without her. It was most definitely a labor of love, as not only is making those shells tedious, I suffered my first kitchen injury of these 8 weeks (and counting) of cooking during the pandemic. I’ll survive, but in the future I’ll either order the cannoli, or at the very least, buy the shells. Billy’s verdict “they’re great”. As good as Modern, I’m not sure, but I’ll take it as a yes. In the end, we had that glass of champagne, so all in all it was worth it.