Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
What Are Parker House Rolls?
There is a soft, pillowy, buttery dinner roll called the Parker House. Have you ever wondered how it got that name? Here's the story, and (bonus for you!) how to make them in your own kitchen.
From Humble Beginnings
In 1825 Harvey Parker, a 20-year-old youth from the small town of Paris, Maine, moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He had no family, no friends, no job in Boston, and only $1.00 in his pocket. But that didn't discourage Harvey.
With a head full of ideas and a heart full of ambition he quickly landed his first job as a caretaker for a cow and a horse. Several more menial jobs followed, but then his condition improved; he was employed as a coachman for a wealthy Boston socialite, a position that changed his life.
Harvey often enjoyed his midday meal in a basement tavern. Although he had no experience, he was inspired to improve the food and atmosphere and bought the tavern for $432. He renamed it Parker’s Restaurant, serving an updated menu and employing professional waitstaff. The former dingy hole-in-the-wall became the go-to place for Boston’s elite. By 1847, Parker’s was one of the most popular dining destinations in the city.
Seven years later with an investment partner, Harvey Parker purchased a boarding house that had once been a grand mansion. Under his guidance, the aging structure was razed and in its place arose an Italianate-style five-story brick-and-stone hotel with marble steps, elegant foyer, crystal chandeliers, burnished bronze fixtures, golden oak paneling, and plush wool carpets.
Instead of the traditional boarding house meals at established times, Parker’s had a new concept—an elegant dining room, a menu, and upscale meals which could be purchased at any time. Today, Parker's is regarded as the oldest of Boston’s elegant inns and the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States.
Some Notable Parker's Guests
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- Babe Ruth
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
- John F. Kennedy
- Sarah Bernhardt
A century and one-half ago, the creative kitchen staff developed several dishes that are still known today. One of those is the Parker House roll, beloved because of its unique combination of buttery exterior and pillowy softness.
Of course, with all things famous there are legends. The story oft-told of the Parker House roll is that it was created in a moment of passion—a guest at the hotel so infuriated the baker that he picked up a pan of rolls ready to be baked. When they emerged from the oven they were folded over in what we today recognize as the distinctive shape for a Parker House roll.
I hate to rain on the parade, but I honestly don't believe that hurling a pan of unbaked dough into an oven would serendipitously result in perfectly formed "pocketbook-shaped" rolls. What do you think?
Read More From Delishably
Original Parker House Rolls
The oldest printed Parker House Rolls recipe on file is from an April 1874 issue of the New Hampshire Sentinel, and they have been a favorite in homes and restaurants ever since. The website New England Today published what is purported to be the "original" Parker House roll recipe as it appeared in "The Yankee Magazine" August 24, 2017.
Garlic Herb Parker House Rolls
I find one problem with this recipe for garlic herb rolls—it makes only 18 rolls. They have the buttery softness you would expect in a Parker House roll, but the addition of garlic and herbs and a dusting of sea salt makes them irresistible.
Gluten-Free Parker House Rolls (5 Flavors)
The perfect balance of potato starch, tapioca starch, and almond flour make these gluten-free Parker House rolls just as light and puffy as the original. Brittany also gives us four alternative recipes for garlic and herb, rosemary/black pepper, pumpkin/honey butter, and cheddar/mustard versions.
Salted Honey Parker House Rolls
Adrianna sweetens the dough for these rich salted honey Parker House rolls by replacing ordinary granulated sugar with honey. Depending on the type of honey you choose (there are dozens of flavors) your rolls can have notes of butterscotch, burnt sugar, oranges or clover blossoms. A dusting of flaked sea salt gives the perfect contrast of salt to sweet.
Vegan Parker House Rolls
Plant-based milk and non-dairy butter make these vegan Parker House rolls tasty and guilt-free. Don't let the vegan label dissuade you from trying these—they are moist, puffy, and light as a cloud.
© 2021 Linda Lum