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A sampling of Martha’s Vineyard holiday foodways and lore.

Tea Lane Chutney, from a recipe by Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler, will be sent to Canada, Hawaii and Brazil. — Keya Guimaraes

On my worn bamboo cutting board, I quarter two pounds of peeled and cored New England apples. My kitchen window, perched high above the moss-laden woods of Tea Lane in Chilmark, gazes out to the chalk-white sky of December falling upon a smokier shade of sea, and the gunshots of deer hunters echo along the raging wind. The apples begin to simmer in a pint of cider vinegar, and their sharp perfume dances through the whole house.

Is there any other time of year so insistent upon prompting our memories of meals and laughter shared, of family and friends passed, of tastes and traditions wrapped and unwrapped over generations? To this wash-ashore Vineyard resident, still dewy with the salt spray of my first year on this legendary Island, the ghosts of Vineyard Christmases past call out with an invitation to inherit their rich legacy of tasty traditions, to sit and savor the lavish table set over decades of storied celebrations.

Mary Drouin. – Photo by Linsey Lee
Mary Drouin. – Photo by Linsey Lee

Slipping through the scrub oak and conifers of memory, the merry violin, guitars, and singing of Portuguese carolers arrive at the door, calling “A Bom Natal!” In More Vineyard Voices by Linsey Lee, curator of oral history at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Mary Drouin recounts the musical gifts her family wholeheartedly gave to neighbors and friends each Christmas Eve: “That was the day for caroling. My uncle John Coutinho played the violin, and Lester Perry from Oak Bluffs played the guitar, and my father used to be the lead singer. Then they used to have singers with them. In the old days they used to take the horse and wagon, go up to Tea Lane Farm, and sing at the doors up there.”

Betty Alley of Oak Bluffs holds close the precious memory of the Portuguese caroling as well. “The men would play their banjos and mandolin. And you could hear them play all the way down the street. And it would be so pretty to listen to them. I remember standing upstairs at my bedroom listening out the window,” shares Ms. Alley in Lee’s Vineyard Voices.

The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook, by Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler, is a rich collection of Island cuisine.
The Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook, by Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler, is a rich collection of Island cuisine.

The apples have broken down. I pour two pounds of dark brown sugar, one pound chopped dates, two crushed cloves of garlic, a small handful of crystallized ginger, a dessertspoon of dry mustard, a teaspoon of salt, and only a wimpy pinch of the suggested one tablespoon of dried red pepper flakes into the bubbling apples. I am following a holiday recipe for Tea Lane Chutney from Louise Tate King and Jean Stewart Wexler’s Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook, one of the rich stalwart texts on Island cuisine. Yet as the cauldron bubbles, I hear the voices of Drouin and Alley, reminiscing on Christmas Eves long ago and the tradition of dancing the chamarita.

Ms. Alley remembers in Vineyard Voices, “There was a lady down the end of our street where I lived, and she was one of the best dancers. Little old lady, too. Everybody used to go to her house at Christmas. They always dropped in and they danced the chamarita there. And from our house we could hear them singing and dancing.”

As I tap my wooden spoon to the stamping feet of a chamarita, the memories of Ms. Drouin’s traditions come walking through the woods just out my window. “I had my dancing dolls that they brought from Portugal,” she says in Lee’s More Vineyard Voices. For all the generous singers and musicians in her family, “I had made them all red stocking hats like the Portuguese fishermen, you know? And his nose was as red as his hat all the time … We’d play all the way down the road as we went, you know, never get tired … Cold as it was too.”

Ms. Drouin tells in detail how after they sang “Abra La Porta” (Open the Door), families would invite them in and give them warm drink and food, while they kept singing and sharing their cheer. Perhaps a Wassail Bowl from Vineyard Fare and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Auxiliary would suit the mood: “Three gallons sweet cider, 24 oranges, juiced, 12 lemons, juiced, 6 cups of sugar, 3 cups of raisins, 1 tsp. nutmeg, 3 tsp. ground clove, 9 tsp. allspice and 12 cinnamon sticks, heated and served hot from a silver punch bowl.” And when all were warm, I would invite them to stay for a midnight mariners’ feast of my own Tia’s Portuguese Christmas Eve Cod, which she serves in Brazil on the sacred night: gently poached, served with potatoes, cabbage, and a garlic vinegar sauce.

The apple chutney is cooked and cooled, and while sterilizing the glass jars, I delight in knowing this recipe finds its roots in both England and Tea Lane. As described in The Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook, the hot apple chutney holiday tradition began a half-century ago with the friendship between two English ladies, one residing on Tea Lane. “Every Christmas for many years, certain favored up-Island households were the recipients of a jar of this prized apple chutney.” King and Wexler write in their book, “A foil-wrapped and beribboned jelly glass always appeared in the mailbox of this cookbook’s authors.”

While carefully filling the jars with chutney and sealing them with another hot-water bath, I turn from spicy to sweet, and thus to a fudge recipe by Evelyn DeBettencourt, as it appears in Slapdash Cookery on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard by Louise Aldrich Bugbee, the legendary scribe of the Vineyard Gazette.

In her hilarious book of Island cookery, Ms. Bugbee elects Ms. DeBettencourt’s fudge “the best homemade candy I ever ate and here’s how to make it… Mix 3 cups of sugar, ¾ cups of butter and ⅔ cups evaporated milk and bring it to a rolling boil. Cool rapidly for five minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, 2 cups marshmallow cream, one cup of nuts, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Pour into pan.” As as footnote, she adds, “Vanilla is best for flavoring, but a drop or two of almond extract adds a special something to fudges…. Some people hate almond extract. If you are one of these people, I’d advise not using it very often. I happen to dote upon it.”

As I gather the fudge ingredients on my cold marble counter, the whirl of a propeller plane thunders just above the house, and Lee’s highly esteemed More Vineyard Voices calls out again from the laced history of the Island: “We’ve got a flying Santa Claus coming and he’s going to come over in a plane and throw you a present.” This Island heirloom comes from Seamond Ponsart Roberts, a lighthouse nomad whose family moved and guarded lights from Dumpling Rock to Cuttyhunk to West Chop and East Chop.

Seamond Roberts recounts, “When we were still over at Cuttyhunk, my mother read in the paper that there was a flying Santa Claus and he’d drop toys and stuff to the lighthouse kids.” A grand Christmas saga of a prized doll dropped on a beach rock, broken, and then wired together again finishes just in time to add two drops of almond extract and cool the DeBettencourt-Bugbee Fudge for squaring.

Staying close to lives lived off the water, in the archives of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum I was able to find two historic Island recipes, perhaps of the whaling era, both replete with local ingredients — these traditional crops were cultivated by Wampanoag wisdom and honed by Pilgrim tastes: Cranberry-Pumpkin Pie and Steamed Carrot Pudding.

“These two dishes might be typical fare of captains’ households served in a sumptuous holiday spread,” said Museum librarian Bow Van Riper. The Carrot Pudding includes unusual ingredients such as cherry preserves, suet, and potatoes, steamed for four hours in a large basin and served warm with a white vinegar sauce. The simple pie is made by “lining a pie tin with good crust; fill with alternate layers of fresh cranberries and raw pumpkin sliced paper-thin. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, a cup at least. Add a dusting of cinnamon, if desired, and dot with butter and bake in moderate oven for ¾ an hour.”

I wrap my finished chutney with silver foil and red cellophane, spiral a ribbon around the neck, and pack carefully for shipping. Tastes of holiday Tea Lane will travel as far as Canada, Hawaii, and Brazil to share my newly acquired Vineyard heritage with friends and family.

True tradition is composed of many voices, weaving through time and influence to create culture –– Vineyard residents are hard pressed to walk along any beach, seasoned dock, wooded lane, or cottage way without the voices of the past echoing all around. The Portuguese, English, Brazilian, Wampanoag, and Puritan celebratory stories and foods bedeck the Vineyard holiday table, along with those of the newly washed ashore, who find their rightful, grateful, and cherished place in the richly woven story of tradition.

To hear more holiday excerpts from the voices of Linsey Lee’s oral history treasuries Vineyard Voices and More Vineyard Voices, published by Martha’s Vineyard Museum, visit this link: mvmuseum.org. Or explore more Island heritage at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, open year-round. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free to members; admission for nonmembers is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children 6 to 15, and free for children under age 6.

Bundle of fresh kale. — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Health through the holidays can seem like a cruel oxymoron when presented with the blitz of cookie exchanges, indulgent buffets, cocktail parties, and family feasts served up wholeheartedly between the short weeks of Thanksgiving and New Years Day. The Family Center and local nutritionist, Josh Levy, will offer an evening workshop on navigating this delicious, but weighty season of food and festivities to keep your entire family healthy.
Josh Levy of Vineyard Nutrition knows the nutritional trials unique to Island residents. “We definitely have the usual holiday activities of kids events, parties, concerts, business and community get togethers, which offer more and more opportunities to knock you off your routine; but in addition to those, for us on the Island, add the off-Island shopping trips, day trips to Boston and Falmouth, then extra trips for family travel, and our schedules just get layered with stress.”
Appreciative of the season of indulgence, and the concerns that accompany it, the Family Center of Martha’s Vineyard is proud to host a workshop on maintaining optimal health, both nutritionally and emotionally, on Wednesday December 10. “We can still celebrate the holidays with family and friends,” Levy told The Times. Sometimes it’s about creating new traditions, sometimes it’s about making choices ahead of time, and most of the time it’s just about planning ahead.
At the workshop, Levy will provide specific tools to gracefully maneuver the maze of sugary, caffeinated, and fatty merry making that seem to throw our bodies and minds for a loop at this time of year. Levy explained, “We see the roller-coaster of managing stress and busy days by eating junk food or drinking more coffee, which in turn has more cream and sugar, which in turn leads to craving more sweets, and then all day long the blood sugar goes up and down. And that’s just the adults. For kids, there are all these high sugar treats and snacks that show up, causing the same blood sugar fluctuation, leading to crabbiness or sadness, and finally affecting sleep… which in turn affects the adults.”
Levy suggests bringing food with you. “Pack a cooler, fill it with cheese sticks, yogurt, apples, veggies, so when you get stuck in traffic you reach in and everyone’s fine, or mid-shopping you grab your snack and can keep going. If it’s a longer trip, find out if you’ll have a kitchenette in your hotel room, or if you can contribute to the shared meals by bringing some of your own healthier food. Look ahead at menus, plan ahead so you don’t make that impulse grab.”
Levy will show how replacing unhealthy habits with new traditions can be fashioned to celebrate the true essence of the season. He said, “I worked with a mother and daughter who had always done a cookie swap together. But talking to both of them, we discovered neither of them really wanted to bake twelve dozen cookies again. They both wanted to feel good, lose weight, and control a medical condition. So they created a craft project tradition to replace the baking, and still got the special time together, but in a new way. It was really wonderful to see that change.”

Living on the Vineyard does not make us exempt from stress and health problems due to poor nutrition, yet Levy says we have unique resources, “we are free from the fast-food chain industry, we have a strong community which often supports healthy attitudes and awareness, and we have the beautiful environment. Bundle up the kids, go outside for a walk, jump in the leaves, and play together. It will do them, and you, a world of good.”

Attend the free workshop and learn more about how to take care of yourself and your family over the holidays. Dinner and childcare provided. 5:30-7pm. Wednesday, December 10. Pre-registration is required. 508-687-9182.

Three easy tips to keep your holidays healthy
-Drink lots of water, avoid too much caffeine and sugary beverages
-Enjoy a healthy snack before attending a party to avoid impulse eating
-Get plenty of sleep

Vineyard Nutrition’s healthy holiday recipes

Edamame hummus

Ingredients

1 (12 ounce) package frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup tahini

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lite salt (optional)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cut-up vegetables or 100% whole grain crackers

Directions

1. Place edamame into a large pot and cover with water. Place over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes; drain.

2. Puree garlic in food processor until minced. Add edamame, tahini, water, cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper; blend until smooth.

3. Serve with cut-up vegetables or whole grain crackers

Makes 8 servings

Kale, carrot and apple salad

Emerald-green lacinato kale is the star of this healthy kale salad, tossed with an easy maple, mustard and apple cider vinaigrette and studded with crisp apples. Toss or massage the kale with the dressing about 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve. The sturdy kale leaves won’t wilt from the dressing and will taste even better after they’ve been marinated in it.

Active Time: 30 minutes, Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

Cider vinaigrette

1 small shallot, chopped

1/4 cup cider vinegar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider

1 1/2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper to taste

Salad

10 cups coarsely chopped lacinato kale (1-2 large bunches)

2 sweet-tart apples, such as Golden Russet or Jonagold, cut into matchsticks

3 cups matchstick-cut carrots

1 cup matchstick-cut radishes

3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

Directions

1. To prepare vinaigrette: Puree shallot, vinegar, oil, cider, mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a blender or mini food processor until smooth and creamy.

2. To prepare salad: Toss kale, apples, carrots, radishes and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with the dressing; toss to coat.

Nutrition

Makes: 12 servings, Serving Size: 1 1/4 cups

Per serving: 95 calories; 4 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrates; 1 g added sugars; 5 g total sugars; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber; 175 mg sodium; 421 mg potassium.

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Executive Chefs Daniel Kenney and Nathan Gould visited with students at Our lady of Fatima University in the Philippines. — Photo courtesy of the Harbor Vie
A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte, the worst affected by the typhoon. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils.
A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte, the worst affected by the typhoon.

In August 2013, when executive chef Nathan Gould of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown signed on to travel to the Philippines for a two-week culinary intern recruiting trip, he had no idea that the country would be devastated by a super typhoon and a major earthquake.

But by the time of his departure on November 28, the Philippines had weathered two natural disasters. The October 15 earthquake, followed by the November 8 typhoon — the country’s deadliest on record — resulted in the deaths of nearly 6,500 people and the displacement of more than 16 million others. In spite of the calamities, Mr. Gould and fellow executive chef Daniel Kenney of the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in North Falmouth embarked on their mission as planned.

With both resort properties managed by Nantucket-based Scout Hotels, the chefs’ trip was the result of regional director of operations Clark Guinn’s professional vision: an ongoing relationship with the Philippines’ culinary schools that had turned into a formal training program for interns. Mr. Guinn had lived overseas for seven years and developed an affinity for Filipino culture and cuisine.

“I had the pleasure of working with gifted culinarians from different parts of the world,” he explained, “particularly the Philippines. I took such an interest in their culture and way of thinking that I wanted to share my experience with others at home.”

Nathan Gould (left) and Daniel Kenney speak with a student at the International Culinary Arts Academy Cebu.
Nathan Gould (left) and Daniel Kenney speak with a student at the International Culinary Arts Academy Cebu.

Mr. Guinn launched an official program for Scout Hotels in 2011, opening up a cultural exchange between Filipino culinary students and Scout’s U.S. food and beverage professionals. “These young people have a tremendous amount of passion and skill and are an asset to our hotels,” he said.  “Ultimately the program works, and more importantly, it is fun.”

While the late autumn journey would be Mr. Gould’s first, Mr. Kenney had made the recruiting trip on two previous occasions. He would serve as an informal guide to his younger compatriot, introducing him to culinary school administrators and to the rich culture of the country.

Over the past several years, Mr. Kenney explained, the intern program had grown. With culinary school personnel and students expecting them at seven locations across the Philippines, the chefs agreed to adhere to their schedule, understanding that the areas they would visit were not those that had been directly devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Upon arriving in Manila, however, the chefs discovered a city working feverishly to absorb a large influx of homeless individuals.

“It was a shocking experience,” said Mr. Gould, 27. “There are already 12 million people in Manila, plus the homeless who gathered from both disasters. The population, pollution, and poverty were overwhelming.  But,” he added, “the culture is so strong.”

Nathan-Gould_Daniel-Kenney_Our-Lady-of-Fatima-University-Philipp
Nathan Gould and Daniel Kenney at Our Lady of Fatima University in the Philippines.

Mr. Kenney, 41, the veteran of the duo, looked at his return to the Philippines as an opportunity to strengthen ties with the academic culinary community, with working chefs, and with former interns now working as professionals in their own country. “I knew interns from last year whose families were at the center of the typhoon,” he said. “They lost family members and businesses.”

But with culinary schools growing in attendance throughout the sprawling country, both chefs were eager to build new relationships, experience the varied foods of the culture, and choose a new crop of interns for the 2014 season. Visiting seven culinary schools and universities across the country, Mr. Gould and Mr. Kenney interviewed 100 students for just 32 total positions — 24 for the larger Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s Red’s Restaurant and Lounge, and 8 for Mr. Gould’s Water Street Restaurant and Henry’s Hotel Bar at the Harbor View Hotel. The screening process, according to Mr. Gould, is rigorous. Starting with one-on-one interviews, each candidate is given up to three hours to prepare and present a dish to the chefs.

“We ask five to 10 questions of each student,” Mr. Gould said.  “’Why did you choose to make that dish?’ ‘Why do you want to come to the U.S.?’ We try to get a grasp on who they are and what they hope to gain from the program.” He added that even if a dish comes out poorly, if the student demonstrated great creativity, they’re not demoted. “We look for attitude, passion, and creativity,” he said.

Cantabugon Beach near the town of Aloguinsan, in Cebu province.
Cantabugon Beach near the town of Aloguinsan, in Cebu province.

One of the forays from Manila included a trip to the Cebu Province in the Central Visayas region of the country, an area harder hit by the natural disasters. While in the process of interviewing students, as well as visiting a new restaurant opened by former interns of the Sea Crest and dining with the family of a current intern, Mr. Gould and Mr. Kenney learned of an overcrowded orphanage nearby.

“We spoke with our guides and with the culinary school staff about trying to help in some way,” Mr. Kenney said. “They explained that the orphanage next door normally housed 15 children but that the storm had left thousands without families. They had 70 children living there, many displaced by the typhoon.”

Explaining the institution’s plight to Scout Hotels, the chefs were given the go-ahead to purchase diapers, toys, food and water for the children, aged six months to two years. The potential interns from the neighboring school decided to join Mr. Kenney and Mr. Gould on their visit to deliver the donations.

“We didn’t ask the students to come with us,” Mr. Kenney explained.  “They just volunteered. There’s a culture of helping one another in the Philippines, of staying together. They’re unbelievable people.”

With new toothbrushes and clothing in hand, the entourage visited the orphanage and was treated to lunch and a serenade by the children.  “It was heartbreaking and inspiring,” Mr. Gould said.

“It was the highlight of the trip,” said Mr. Kenney. “It humbles you to go from the U.S., to feel the emotion and happiness of the people. They may not have two cars and a flat screen TV, but with food, faith and family, they seem to be content. It humbled me to be there.”

Students_International-Culinary-Arts-Academy_Cebu-Philippines.JPBy hand-selecting prospective interns for the busy upcoming season, both chefs feel confident that they will be well equipped for the inevitable onslaught of diners. The program seems like a win-win, with Filipino students learning every aspect of running a major food operation, from butchering to preparing desserts, and touring as much of the U.S. as their spare time allows. Returning to the Philippines with a prestigious certificate and personal recommendations, they are poised for success in their native country — or anywhere in the world.

Mr. Kenney is already talking about his next trip. “I plan to return this spring for a major chef event in Manila,” Mr. Kenney said. “It’s an opportunity to gather former interns and help them make new contacts.”

Although the five 50-pound freshly roasted pigs they were given as gifts were memorable, Mr. Gould says it’s the overall impression of the country and its people that has stayed with him. “The experience has challenged me to do more,” he said.