Something I learned when I moved to Massachusetts from Virginia was that people here are very resourceful. And self-conscious when it comes to garbage. We’re very wasteful down South; we hardly recycle, and almost never compost. I didn’t know I would have to think so much about what I threw away, but I do now, and in the end I realize it’s not as time-consuming as I once thought. Living on the Island, you’re especially resourceful.
What I mean when I say “resourceful” is perfectly explained when you look at Jan Buhrman’s work at Kitchen Porch Catering, and her newest venture, the Back Porch Larder. Jan began the business at the Farmers Market in 1989, but has been cooking since she was practically in diapers. She told me she was making peanut butter on toast with banana and raisins and baking it in the oven for herself when she was just 4 years old.
Now things are slightly more elegant, but just as simple. Jan keeps it local. At the Farmers Market, she sold products she made with excess crops from farmers here. If they had tomatoes, Jan made salsa. If they had bones, they’d sell them for really cheap, because who buys bones? Well, Jan does, and she makes bone broth with them.
By keeping close relationships with the farmers, she’s able to get the best food possible from them, and understands when and why she can’t. She calls her food “thoughtfully sourced,” and makes sure that her food is as fresh, local, and logical as possible. If something doesn’t grow on the Island, she’ll get it somewhere in Massachusetts or a little beyond. “We’re always thinking about where our food comes from,” she said.
Her businesses’ focus is not only food, but also the environment. She keeps pig buckets, compost, and recycling, minimizing trash load. “I think if we’re going to generate garbage, we should take care of our garbage,” Jan said. Her food is all organic, and she’s got a core philosophy: Work more closely with the land, support the farmers, know the farmers’ challenges, and support their growing practices.
Jan’s also got itchy feet. Even now, as I ask her about her adventures abroad, I have to chase her around the kitchen just to get her to talk to me. Throughout her life, she traveled everywhere and got inspired. Her interest was in the food markets. There she tasted everything and asked what it was, then went home to try to make it herself. “I still love to go to the farmers market wherever I am, because I feel like you really get the heart and soul of the community,” she said.
The Back Porch Larder first opened in July 2016, and is a small bakery and takeout sandwich joint right next to the Kitchen Porch. There, Jan and her crew flutter around and chitchat with customers as though they’re neighbors visiting from next door. While I’m there, one woman strolls in and asks, “What’s for lunch?”
It’s all very casual, and every morning they’ve got fresh popovers, croissants, and sticky buns baked in-house. Back Porch also sells hot Chilmark Coffee and cold brew, as well as spices and vegetables. It’s Jan’s food, too, so you can feel really good about what you’re getting.
I have this weird thing where I can’t ever get too passionate about saving the environment. What changed my perspective on food sourcing was the difference in flavor.
To put it in context, Jan shows me some new shiitake mushrooms that were grown right here on the Island. Before she knew about the shiitake crop, she had already restocked on mushrooms from a place off-Island. The others were organic, but they weren’t as fresh, and certainly weren’t as local. So she and another chef at the kitchen, Jon Tau, sauté both kinds up for me so I can see for myself. I’ve never been much of a foodie, and used to laugh at customers for spending extra cash on local eggs, but these shiitakes … Now I get it. I’m really learning that where your food comes from makes a huge difference, in both flavor and morale.
Next time you’re feeling self-conscious about your participation in the local food market, or maybe you just want something delicious for lunch, try the Back Porch Larder. It’s now open seven days a week from 7:30 am to 4 pm, located across the street from the RMV in the Airport Business Park, at 14 A Street.