Good Taste: Serving up summer on Martha’s Vineyard

Island Grown heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and peppers at Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Island Grown heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and peppers at Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury.

It’s only mid-August, but it feels like summer is starting to slip away.

Some out-of-state visitors are already getting ready to send the kids back to school. Catalogues are showing up in my mailbox featuring models in boots, jeans, and scarves instead of bikinis, sundresses, and sandals. And while I do love the fall and everything that September brings, I’d like to press pause and soak up the dog days of summer for a little longer; the long hot days and sultry, starry nights and the summer snacks that will soon fade away ’til next year, replaced by their inferior mass-produced cousins.

These are some of the foods you should be sure to get your hands (and mouths) on before it’s too late.

Corn

When Morning Glory Farm’s sweet corn starts coming in from the fields it’s like a subliminal memo goes out to every chef, grill master, foodie, and food lover on the Island. The pile of corn in the back of the farm stand is descended on by the masses, and Morning Glory corn pops up on menus Island-wide. People are so enthusiastic about their corn, Morning Glory has posted a “how to pick your corn” sign above their stock, instructing shoppers on what to (look at the whole ear) and what not to do (open the husk before purchasing).

Corn is a solid companion for lobster, a great base for a salsa or chowder, and of course perfectly delicious au natural, shucked and grilled with butter and salt. Or spice it up with Cherilla Brown’s By the Sea Salt or south-of-the-border style with lime and smoked paprika.

Ben deForest, chef at the Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck, has been making his signature dish, Island Fresca, for more than 16 years. He starts with a corn broth, adds corn kernels, chopped tomatoes, butter, basil oil, and a fresh Reggiano cheese and…voila, summer in a bowl. Mr. deForest will serve Island Fresca at this year’s Agricultural Fair starting this Thursday.

Heirloom tomatoes

Did you know that tomatoes are actually indigenous to the western coast of South America despite the wide belief that they are an Italian food? And that some of the first American colonists thought them to be poisonous? I’m glad they got that all figured out. I didn’t think I liked tomatoes until I discovered heirlooms. They are nothing like their supermarket counterparts. And if it’s true that we eat with our eyes, then the striking and varied appearance of summer tomatoes surely increases their deliciousness.

Though you can find heirlooms all over the Island and at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, I think Caitlin Jones of Mermaid Farm and Dairy in Chilmark has a real knack for growing these beauties. You’ll find bright-orange cherry tomatoes, green zebras, Brandywines, and more at her farm stand on Middle Road. Try them sliced with Burrata cheese, drizzled with good olive oil and sea salt. For a fun snack and a great “what can I bring?” dish, put a cherry tomato, mini mozzarella ball, and a leaf of basil on a skewer for a Caprese salad on a stick.

Beans, greens, and purple peppers

Summer beans are easy to work with and they liven up a salad, pasta, or veggie dish. Be on the lookout for yellow wax beans, haricots verts (French style green beans), and my favorite, purple beans. Chris Fischer of Beetlebung Farm in Chilmark had a great crop of purple beans last week. They are best enjoyed raw because they lose their rich color when cooked.

Greens are a year-round vegetable standby, but there is something wonderful about eating barely cooked kale, chard, and spinach lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil in the summertime. I love the kale salad at Sidecar Café and Bar in Oak Bluffs, served with crumbled blue cheese, bacon vinaigrette, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds.

Rebecca Miller sells her famous baby greens and baby arugula (and homegrown shiitake mushrooms too!) at Cronig’s and at her North Tabor Farm Stand on North Road in Chilmark.

Maybe it’s something about the color, but I find the purple peppers at Morning Glory irresistible. You can find them whole or at the salad bar. They are the color of Italian eggplant in the shape of a bell pepper — colorful, crunchy, and refreshing.

Watermelons, peaches, plums, and nectarines

These fruits might not always be grown locally, but they are the fruits that daydreams are made of in January, so we might as well indulge while we can.

There is no more satisfying mess than the one made by fresh fruit juice dripping down your face. Cookies and cakes take a back seat to the perfect August dessert: sliced watermelon. Skip the jumbo watermelon for the smaller, sweeter, and juicier minis. If you haven’t had a stone fruit (peach, plum, or nectarine) from Goldbud Farms, it’s about time you did.

BBQ Good Farm chicken

Jefferson Munroe of the Good Farm in Vineyard Haven processes chickens year round to be roasted, fried, and baked, but the window of opportunity for firing up the grill is getting smaller. He sells his chickens at Cronig’s and the West Tisbury Farmers Market.

Or you can leave the work to Daniele Dominick of the Scottish Bakehouse, where I recently had the pulled Good Farm chicken, which came with a choice of two sides (mac and cheese, sweet potato mash, collards, etc.). It was one of the best things I’ve eaten all summer. The chicken was braised to succulent perfection, had the perfect combination of sweet and savory, and was not drenched in sauce.

Be sure to check out other Island farms and markets like the Tisbury Grocer, Native Earth Teaching Farm, Blackwater Farm, Whippoorwill Farm, and Bayes Norton Farm.

Noteworthy

It’s time for the Fair! There will be food to eat, food to admire, and food to indulge in. Only four days to get your fill of fair favorites: BBQ Bill, pickle on a stick, grilled corn, West Tisbury Fire Department’s burgers, strawberry shortcake, and more.