NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 5, 2014

Pearsons cook up a name for themselves

(Continued)

According to town records, the Pearson bakery locations were originally on Middle and Centre streets. They had a simple recipe for success and their product was the major staple for sailing vessels. There was no secret formula, just flour and water; it was the perfect sustenance on long voyages and military campaigns all over the world for years. The shelf life was long and the cost was cheap. The biscuits were 8-9 ounces each and packed into sacks weighing 55-60 pounds and a ration of two biscuits a day.

Robinson in “The Bugs that Bugged the Colonists” notes that the sailors appreciated the tunnels and galleries chewed in their hardtack by a variety of invaders, known universally as weevils, making the rock-hard bread easier to chew as well as adding a little flavor and a bit of protein.

Civil War Union soldiers were known to grumble about hardtack rations due to weevils that ferreted into the crackers after months of storage.

However, Potomac boys found a bit of humor in the situation, nicknaming their allotted grub as “jawbreakers” or “worm castles.” They would often need to wallop their biscuits with the butt of their rifles in order to ingest them. One journal entry from a soldier admits, “They eat better than they look and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.”

By 1869, the Pearson & Sons were well established as the Newburyport Herald asserted “this bakery was probably the most perfect in the state.” John Jr. was the foreman, supplying the whole country as well as the West Indies. A fire that year left the plant in ashes, but he was not about to crumble after his factory went up in flames, and opened another location debuting Pearson’s Cream Biscuit “so light, nutritious, and pleasant that nothing has equaled its kind” (Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics).

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