2018-06-14 / Front Page

Reason is ‘clear’ to attend Baptist festival


Janet Larson has been promoted from serving strawberry shortcakes, above, to overseeing the entire process, which includes whipping the cream. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Janet Larson has been promoted from serving strawberry shortcakes, above, to overseeing the entire process, which includes whipping the cream. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN No milk, no tomatoes. That is chowder in the Ocean State, according to Norman Newberry.

“In these parts, there is great controversy over chowder,” said the retired Central Baptist organist, a parishioner since 1965. “So, I straightened it out. This is what real Rhode Island chowder should be.”

In anticipation of the church’s annual festival, Newberry is prepping the clear chowder that has attracted visitors since the congregation launched the summer celebration in June 1980. Because his team spends hours chopping onions, mincing clams and seasoning the broth, it would make sense for Newberry to accept a donation of potatoes already peeled and cubed.

“I had to reject that offer,” he said. “We have a group that cuts potatoes every year. I couldn’t take that good time away from them. It’s the only place where you work like a dog and enjoy it.”

For the 38th time, the Baptist congregation at 99 Narragansett Ave. will host its annual festival from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. While visitors spend plenty of time browsing the flea market and bidding on auction items, organizers said it’s the food that keeps them coming back year after year. Along with Newberry’s chowder, the festival features Pam Carr’s baked beans, Greg Gamon’s clam cakes and the Page family grill, which offers hamburgers and hot dogs cooked by three generations of Pages.

“It’s a lot of shopping and a lot of eating,” said Jill Dolce, chairwoman of the festival. “Everyone can find a treasure.”

“There’s a lot of good humor and smiles to go around,” added Tammy Fasano, a former parish trustee.

Making their encore appearance are Ron and Doris Silvia, a Middletown couple who serve chorizo, peppers and onions on a grinder roll. It’s slow-roasted blade meat, not the sausage, and the special ingredient is PTLC.

“Portuguese tender loving care,” he said.

Silvia, a part-time cook at Salve Regina University, said his family has been passing the chorizo torch at church festivals on Aquidneck Island for generations.

“I could have been a cook at the Last Supper,” he quipped.

The Silvias introduced their chorizo sandwiches at the 2017 festival, their first as members of the congregation. Although they are Catholic, they are not outsiders at the church, which is proud to boast 29 different belief systems at last count, from Jewish to Episcopalian. As an American Baptist congregation, the church relishes the teachings of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island who paved the way for religious acceptance.

“We have open hearts and open doors,” said Fasano, who contributes pumpkin bread and biscotti to the bake table. “We all believe in a loving God.”

Another spirituality that flourishes at Central Baptist is Buddhism, which is practiced by Janet Larson. She is filling the biggest shoes at the festival by taking charge of the strawberry shortcakes. Dolce, the former shepherd of shortcakes, is relinquishing her duties to make time for her new post.

With a laundry list of notes typed and double-spaced, Larson is hoping for a seamless transition. Each dessert is made from shortcake baked in the church oven, then topped with strawberries picked from Quonset View Farm and marinated in confectionary sugar, and finished with freshly whipped cream.

“You have one for breakfast, then you have it for lunch,” Larson said. “Then you take some home for dinner.”

The organizers expect another supportive turnout, which means about 200 shortcakes, 20 pounds of roast chorizo and 20 gallons of chowder. Even the mere mention of the June festival gets mouths watering. For example, riding her bike back to the office from lunch break, Lisa Bryer was stopped on the street. The town planner was reminded about the upcoming festival.

“Best strawberry shortcake ever,” she said without hesitation. “Best chowder, too.”

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