In Print

Philip and Shirley Prada Craig
Husband and wife, Philip and Shirley Prada Craig, read from their cookbook. Photo courtesy of the Craigs

Jackson jumps from fiction to kitchen

By Mary-Jean Miner - December 7, 2006

"Delish!", by Philip Craig and Shirley Prada Craig. Vineyard Stories. 2006. $22.95.

The arrival of the J.W. Jackson recipes, in the form of a delightful cookbook titled "Delish!" which fans of Jackson will recognize as his usual comment after enjoying a particularly succulent supper, is finally upon us.

Jackson has been a fictional resident of Martha's Vineyard for nearly 20 books, with his relationship with "Zee" developing into marriage and, recently, the arrival of two kids. Those who are not yet familiar with Philip Craig's Martha's Vineyard mysteries character will simply enjoy the varied and interesting dishes Phil and his wife, Shirley Prada Craig, have compiled, both from the series of Jackson books and their own repertoire.

The book includes sidebar comments from Phil, Shirley, or the fictional J.W. and Zee. Most of these are helpful hints, and some are simply fun, like Zee's comment on Soybean Appetizer: "J.W. wishes this fine appetizer had a more appealing name, but it doesn't. Try it anyway. You'll like it." You get the idea - this is probably the most conversational cookbook around!

To give this review a different twist, I invited the Craigs and Mary Jane and Glenn Carpenter (impartial food-tasters) to dinner and prepared several dishes from the book. I followed the Craigs' instructions to "borrow, steal, or alter without shame," which gives the cook a wonderful sense of freedom! Included on the menu were Easy Curried Chicken; Green Beans with Shallot Sauce and Almonds (Miner version: green beans with toasted pignoli as I forgot to buy shallots); and the world's greatest Pecan Pie. We prefaced the feast with Zee's Warm Artichoke Dip, which, I am pretty certain, the cook must have acquired a taste for at an Island Community Chorus bash. The writers freely admit this with another hors d'oeuvre recipe, this one for Wasabi Dip. In fact, they state that both the Jacksons and the Craigs believe that once they've cooked something, the recipe is theirs. This conscience-clearing declaration may be committed to memory, being a useful disclaimer for us all!

Many of the recipes are Island-inspired, using local shellfish and finfish. In the books, Zee and J.W. often enjoy smoked bluefish with their cocktails, which are always served up on their upstairs balcony, from where they can look out over Sengekontacket Pond and the traffic coming and going between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Be sure to check out the many options for scallops and seafood casseroles as well.

Since Phil and Shirley are avid travelers (the Jacksons seldom go anywhere other than Boston), they have included some traditional Greek dishes, including stuffed grape leaves and Greek potatoes, which feature spices, herbs, and lemon juice. They suggest a sprinkling of feta cheese. They have also included a simple version of souvlakia, which may be made with either lamb or beef. Add a Greek salad to that, and you have a delightful armchair trip to Athens!

"Delish!" is physically a delight as well. Designed to stay open during the referential phase of the cooking, the binding is nearly impossible to break, which is a very handy feature. Beginning with breakfast, the selections include hors d'oeuvres, salads, entrees, side dishes, and even preserves and pickles. Most of the recipes are brief: the writers, both virtual and fictional, believe that no recipe worth its salt should be more than four inches long. The ones that depart from that format seem to be worth both the extra length and the extra effort. The Carpenters and I can attest to the ease of preparation and the joy in consuming our personal samplings. The conversation was lively as well, of course, but that sort of thing is up to each individual cook and his or her dinner companions.

Now, if other people are not compulsive cookbook readers like me, they can simply depend on my word that all these recipes appeal to my sense of delight and joy in food preparation (and consumption!). I can also guarantee that, if you are a compulsive cookbook reader, you will feel as if you have been to a lovely feast just by reading "Delish!"

"Delish!" is published by Vineyard Stories, an independent publishing company started in 2005 by Island residents Jan Pogue and John Walter. They are the publishers of "By Gertrude Wilson: Dispatches of the 1960s, from a White Writer in a Black World," a memoir by deceased Island resident Justine Priestley (2005) and "Allen Whiting: A Painter at Sixty," a retrospective of work by the well-known West Tisbury artist.

For more information, contact Vineyard Stories at 508-221-2338 or by email, info@vineyardstories.com.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer who lives in Tisbury with two retired racing greyhounds. She frequently writes about classical music, art, and theater.