A Food Tour of Concord, MA: Part Four

In Part Three of PRK’s ongoing Concord Food Tour series, I hinted at a stop at Verrill Farm.

Well, you’re gonna have to wait. Saving Verrill for the tour’s final installment, I will focus today instead on two smaller businesses in West Concord: Concord Teacakes and To Die For Dips.

In addition to a common location, these businesses were started by women brave enough–and savvy enough–to quit successful day jobs in order to pursue something they enjoyed more.

Judy Fersch of Concord Teacakes and Margaret Hammill of To Die For Dips are inspirations. Both women have grown their businesses considerably; both employ loyal workers (men and women); and, both have dedicated customer bases. Who doesn’t want to come back a second time for butter cookies and flavorful dips?

7.) Concord Teacakes, 59 Commonwealth Ave., West Concord

Left to right: bakers and decorators Danielle Silva, Maria Silva, and Michael Anderson of Concord Teacakes

West Concord truly supports their small businesses. So when Judy Fersch quit her job at the district court in the mid 1980s, she was in a prime location to start a bakery. “It was at the time Mrs. Fields was thriving,” Judy said, “and many women were turning to baking as a career.” Judy whipped up different teacakces and brought them down to the local library for tastings. Encouraged by her community’s response, she opened shop on Commonwealth Ave., West Concord’s main street, in 1984.

Today, Concord Teacakes employs roughly thirty between its downtown café and a bakery on Beharrel Street. In recent years, a large portion of their business has been devoted to artisan cakes. Think Bud Light cakes, pull-apart birthday cupcake cakes, a graduation cake with cheerleader dolls emerging (or submerged, depending on one’s perspective). Even a cake in the shape of Fenway Park! Food and art come together in a tangible–and tasty–way here.

The master craftswomen behind the artisan cakes are a family team. Maria Silva and her daughters, Daniella and Sherrie, assisted Judy after she returned from a prolonged illness (Maria’s husband, John Silva, had already taken over for Judy while she was hospitalized for several months with a brain aneuryism.) Before connecting with Concord Teacakes, the Silva family owned their own bakery on the North Shore, which was destroyed in a fire the year after they sold it. It was fate that this talented, creative (and obviously sweet-toothed) family would find a new home for their craft in West Concord–and that Concord Teacakes would thrive because of their work.

If you aren’t in the mood for an entire cake, the Concord Teacakes Café has delicious brownie bites and butter cookies to snack on–the latter in shapes as diverse as butterflies and Red Sox jerseys. And the coffee is as warm as the company.

8.) To Die For Dips, 21 Concord Greene, West Concord

To Die For Dips, West Concord, MA (photo: Katie White)

These dips are truly addictive. Although I have begun many Concord Food Tour posts with the history of a business, its location or the people behind it, in the case of To Die For Dips taste comes first.

There are nearly thirty varieties of dips, and each has a distinct flavor. Dark streaks of garlic, ripe with juice and rind, sweep through cheesy batter in Roasted Garlic and Parmesan. Pineapple Coconut Creme is lighter and airier (it even comes in a miniature container), but its aroma is powerful, with a strong scent of liqueur and zinging bits of pineapple. A scoop of Red Pepper Jelly with Pecans is like cold (pink) butter, interrupted with bits of nuts and slivers of shining peppers. Other flavors include Spicy Mexican, Cheddar and Port, Feta & Greek Olive, Mango Chutney and Curry, and Raspberry Creme, to name a few. Margaret Hammill, the founder and current owner of To Die For Dips, opened nearly a dozen containers for me when I arrived at her store and packaging center on Beharrel Street (located just across from the Nashoba Brook Baking Company, featured in Part III of this series).

To Die For Dips represents two generations’ worth of work: that of Ms. Hammill and that of her mother–a “fabulous” cook and entertainer, according to her daughter. The 1940s and 50s, when Ms. Hammill was growing up, were a time when dips were just coming into vogue–at the height of the evening cocktail hour. Margaret remembers watching her mother prepare delicious appetizers to accompany the drinks. Today, her mother’s Cucumber and Chive dip recipe remains a top seller (Margaret keeps a laminated copy of the magazine page it comes from on file).

Margaret’s career wasn’t always devoted to dips, however. Before starting To Die For, she worked at an aviation consulting firm. Like Judy Fersch of Concord Teacakes, she finally quit the corporate world for one she felt was more creative one. And she hasn’t looked back since.

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