Boston Stories and Tips

Parker House rolls originated here

Many fine foods originated in Boston--from Boston baked beans to Boston cream pie. One of the most interesting Boston food origination stories is the the Parker House Roll. My mother used to make this light and fluffy clover-leaf rolls.

While in Boston, I picked up this fascinating information about how this popular roll originated. It was created by accident at Boston’s Parker House, one of America's finest hotels of the 19th century.

By the 1870s, most deluxe hotels like the Parker House were switching their food service away from the traditional "American Plan," by which everyone ate the same meals and paid for them whether they ate them or not. They were changing to the more popular European Plan, by which one could order a la carte and be charged accordingly.

Hotelier Harvey Parker was adamant that his guests should and could have anything they wanted at any hour. This marketing policy put the kitchen through hoops on a daily basis. One oft-put-upon cook was a baker named Ward, who was known to have something of a German temper.

As the story goes, one guest made so many requests of Ward for a certain kind of soft roll -- none of which was satisfactory -- that Ward became furious and angrily took some dough he had been working with and tossed little buns of it into the oven.

To everyone's surprise -- especially Ward's -- the little buns puffed up marvelously well, and the guest was delighted. Apparently so were other guests at the hotel at that time, so that soon the little soft rolls with the crease on the top became one of the most requested items. This is how the Parker House roll was born.

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