Orange Peel Bakery's Pizza Night
It is Wednesday night - Pizza Night at the Orange Peel Bakery. Laughter and the sweet smell of baked dough fills the evening air at Juli Vanderhoop's home off State Road in Aquinnah. Ms. Vanderhoop's small driveway - turned pizza parlor - is filled with people, chairs, cars, and a festive mood. The Orange Peel sign, a modest plank of wood shaped like a long-handled frying pan, is itself an old peel (a large spatula with a long handle, used to move bread in and out of an oven). It was once used to by Ms. Vanderhoop for baking in her stone-hearth bread oven.
Tonight, the breads have been put aside and in place of them, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, pineapple, sun-dried tomato and even shrimp, all piled together atop a flatbread, if you like, have taken their place.
On any given Wednesday night in August close to 100 people were drawn up-Island to Ms. Vanderhoop's pizza parties. She says, "This year we got right into it, it took right off." Ms. Vanderhoop laughs and adds, "Oh my goodness. That's an understatement." She explains she began the event in March this year, and by June, attendance was up about ten-fold what it was last year. "It just kept multiplying," she says.
The night air is chilly. A dozen or so people congregate around what resembles a gigantic stone beehive, huddled around its glowing fire. A bottle of red wine is passed around. Stories are shared, along with comments on the week's toppings of choice. Ms. Vanderhoop's favorites are fresh mascarpone cheese, peaches (in-season) and dark chocolate chunks - the most unconventional. Other than the crust, it is a bring-your-own topping event.
Cheers of encouragement are heard as dough is spun high into the air, then garnished with a red sauce and fresh mozzarella. A voice calls out, "Who's up? Don't be shy," and a woman timidly steps forward to add her sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, and pepperoni.
New-comers are cheered on to step up and add their toppings. Craig Hockmeyer, of Vineyard Haven, a veteran peeler and regular volunteer at Pizza Night, gently slides the pie into the 600-degree oven. Minutes later it is removed, sliced, and placed in front of the woman, who grins with satisfaction.
Pizza Night at the Orange Peel Bakery is a dream-come-true for Orange Peel's owner, Ms. Vanderhoop, who began the event in the fall of 2008. "I went to work," she says, "to find the community I knew."
After traveling abroad in Europe Ms. Vanderhoop explains she gained a new perspective on the importance of dinner. "Dinner was not just dinner," she says, "it was part of the day. It didn't end when the food stopped. It kept on going, it was a real community thing." She stands over a stack of fresh baguettes and speaks with ease and assurance, "To get to know my community-Martha's Vineyard - I decided to share."
After working briefly as a commercial pilot, Ms. Vanderhoop ordered the materials to construct an authentic French Terre-blanc clay wood-fired oven. A year later, after joining forces with local mason Ken Lane, she was the proprietor of a 10-foot wide stone oven and its close to 20-foot tall chimney.
A self-taught baker and mason, she is able to bake 45 loaves of bread in 45 minutes, or on a night like tonight, six large pizza pies, all neatly placed, within the 18-inch walls of the oven, whose exterior consists purely of Aquinnah field stones.
Ms. Vanderhoop smiles and says, "That's what pizza night is, it's like going to someone's house, hopefully you'll talk to someone and, you know, meet a lot of people. It's really nice to see people just shaking each other's hands and saying 'Hi.'"
As Ms. Vanderhoop resumes kneading a mound of rosemary olive oil dough on the table in front of her, a voice calls out, "Pizza's ready: get it while it's hot."
This is how Pizza Night goes at the Orange Peel. Friends and neighbors - turned pizza chefs on Wednesday nights - come together over a pie from 5 until 8 pm, or until the dough runs out. And while the food alone is more than worth the suggested $10 dollar donation, the uniqueness of the shared experience, the sense of participation, and the charm of the idea itself make the evening memorable.
Next Pizza Night: Saturday, Nov. 14, 2-5 pm. BYOB and toppings. Orange Peel Bakery, 22 State Road, Aquinnah, on.
E. Conor Hagen is a freelance writer living in Edgartown.