Gems from the kitchen. Photo by Lyla Griswold

Local fruit, local cookbook

By Laura Wainwright - October 25, 2007

This season's fruit bonanza has filled my kitchen with beach plums, grapes, quinces, apples, and pears. One of the compensations for the end of summer is local fruit. I love meeting up with a friend and heading out to forage. The field by me was full of grapes. The small ones I prefer. My friend has an apple tree. Her friend gave her a bag of quinces. My writing group began last week with a pear crumble from the tree in Harriet's yard and I returned home with an armful of ripe pears. The abundance is passed around and shared. Recipes are exchanged as well as spoonfuls of quince honey or spiced grape jam.

The book I kept hearing fellow foragers mention as their source for good recipes was The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook by Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler. This book is no longer in print, but it's available on Amazon if you aren't lucky enough to own it already. I plan to buy it, but in the meantime, I am using a copy borrowed from the West Tisbury Library. It is a gem. There is a whole chapter on chowders and one devoted to blueberries and cranberries. Filled with local lore and stories and history, it's also about seeking what is fresh and local. The recipes are based on what we can find here on our Island and who lives here and is cooking. There's a whole chapter, for instance, on Portuguese cookery. Here are the seeds for Slow Food Martha's Vineyard, as early as 1971.

It turns out I have been using recipes from The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook for years without realizing where they came from. My favorite apple chutney recipe I thought was my mother's, but it is actually the Tea Lane Chutney from this book. Danny Bryant tells me the original source was his mother, Olga, and I believe him. I just made a batch last night with green apples from a tree off North Road. When peeled, the blotched skin - no spraying here - exposes the most delicious juicy flesh. Fortunately, I have plenty remaining to eat fresh and to make into applesauce, which I freeze.

Cranberry Relish and Spiced Wild Grape Jelly are two other recipes I make yearly that are also from this book. I have them on a scrap of paper written out for me by my friend Sheila. Now I know where she must have discovered them. The spiced grape jelly is a delicious twist on traditional grape jelly, which I find too sweet. This is not for toast, but it complements roast chicken or duck beautifully.

Quinces are a new fruit for me. I was very excited to be given some through a friend. I had planned to make a quince chutney that I'd tasted years ago but once I read Louise Tate King's story of picking them on Lamberts Cove Road where I live and her recipe for Quince Honey, I changed my mind. I cooked the honey a bit too long and added too much sugar for my taste. The color is a luscious peach and my family likes jams sweeter than I do, so they are happy.

Here are two recipes from The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook that I highly recommend. There are many others I can't wait to sample.

Spiced Wild Grape Jelly

Makes approximately 12 standard jelly glasses

4 qts. wild grapes, removed from stems
1 pt. vinegar
1/4 cup whole cloves
1/4 cup cinnamon broken up
3 lbs. sugar (approximately)

Do not wash grapes. Place in a large kettle, crush with a potato masher, add vinegar and spices, mix and crush again. Cook mixture 15 minutes. Pour off juice, pressing out as much as you can from the grapes. Then either a) let juice drip through a regular jelly bag, or b) let juice settle in bowl overnight, then dip out or pour off carefully, leaving sediment in bottom. Measure juice and add sugar cup for cup. Heat to boiling, stirring sugar to help dissolve it. Cook fairly rapidly until jelly thermometer registers 220 degrees F. Cool slightly, skim, and pour into clean, hot containers. Seal at once.

I've used both methods a and b and they both work fine. I don't use a jelly thermometer and I usually use fewer cloves.

Tea Lane Chutney

Makes approximately 8 jelly glasses

2 lbs. apples
1 1/2 pt vinegar
2 lbs. moist (dark brown) sugar
1 lb. raisins or chopped dates
2 heads (cloves) garlic minced (or 1 large onion ,chopped fine)
4 oz. crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 dessert spoon (about 1 1/2 tsp.) dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. dried red pepper flakes

Peel, quarter, and core apples. Cook them in the vinegar until they are soft and mushy. Add the other ingredients, using only half the red pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat about 10 minutes. Taste chutney. Then add remainder of red pepper if a very hot chutney is desired. Cook about 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Pour into hot, clean containers and seal.

Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.