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recipe

Uncovering tricks of the trade in advance of the Big Chili Contest.

A closeup of Official Chili's big pot at a past Big Chili Contest. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Big Chili Contest is coming up this weekend, Jan. 24, at the Portuguese-American Club, and in light of the famous event, we wanted to prepare you with some chili history, rules, and recipes.

Before we dive into the world of chili, fair warning: Chili is one of the most controversial recipes in American history. There have probably been wars about chili, friendships dissolved over the meaning of true chili, and marriages terminated on terms of what makes a real chili. And with that fair warning, there’s one true fact we can state: True chili has no beans. There, we said it. You can discuss all you want, but after careful research, we found this statement to be true, and plan to stick by it.

If you’re outraged and want to fight about it, you can take it up with the International Chili Society (ICS), a nonprofit organization that sanctions chili cook-offs with judging, and has an entire set of rules and regulations in place, one of which is shared below:

Traditional Red Chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats,cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of beans and pasta which are strictly forbidden. No garnish is allowed.

In this history that’s difficult to pinpoint with accuracy, stories from the Texan cattle trails are heard often: how range cooks would plant herb gardens along the trails to use in future travels for cooking their chili. Slowly, chili moved into San Antonio, under the aegis of the “chili queens,” a group of dozens of Mexican women who cooked chili at home and sold it from small carts in the Military Plaza of San Antonio, each with her own blend of spices, trying to one-up the others. For 200 years they sold their chili, until the 1930s, when the health department shut down their operation.

Background of fresh red hot chili peppers, or cayenne chillis, a pungent strong flavoured spice used in cooking. — freefoodphotos.com
Background of fresh red hot chili peppers, or cayenne chillis, a pungent strong flavoured spice used in cooking. — freefoodphotos.com

Here, a basic recipe of chili from the ICS via the range cooks: Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to get.

Thanks to the magic of social media, a simple Facebook status turned into a chance to chat with Steve Jordan, local award-winning chili maker and creator of the hottest chili recipe in the past 20 years. Mr. Jordan has been even granted a lifetime achievement award, and is judging this year’s hottest chili category at the Big Chili Contest. Of course, I had to ask him his insider tips and secrets to great and spicy chili.

When I inquired about his recipe, he replied,

Ingredients include ground beef and chopped steak tips that are browned with onions and garlic, as well as chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and paprika. Chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, dark beer, and corn masa flour are added, letting it simmer until ready. You might be wondering why it’s the hottest, right? Well, I grow my own habanero, jalapeño, cayenne, and ghost peppers. Those are all processed, seeds and all, and then slowly cooked in oil. That mixture is added to the simmering chili — hottest chili ever!

Another local favorite is the delicious White Chicken Chili at Mocha Motts, made by Erica McCarron. Her recipe:

White Chicken Chili

1 Tbs. olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 tsp. cumin

1 Tbs. chili powder

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

4 cups shredded/cubed cooked chicken

2 (4 oz.) cans chopped green chiles

4 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth

4 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans

2 cups corn kernels

½ cup half-and-half

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shredded Monterey jack cheese and tortilla strips, for serving (optional)

Preparation

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add diced onions and sauté until soft. Add the minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Cook one minute longer. Stir in cooked chicken and chopped green chiles.

Add 3 cans of chicken broth, and 2 cans of cannellini beans. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add corn.

In a food processor or using an immersion blender, combine ½ cup half-and-half, remaining 1 can chicken broth, and remaining 2 cans of cannellini beans, and purée until smooth. Add to the soup and simmer 10 min. Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper according to taste.

Serve with optional shredded cheese and tortilla strips.

Big Chili Contest tickets are available at Shirley’s True Value in Vineyard Haven and at Trader Fred’s in Edgartown for $35 each. The annual event is this Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm, and is hosted by MVY Radio, benefiting the Red Stocking Fund, and is a 21-plus event. Free bus transportation is provided from the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven to the Chili Contest, and will return you there at the end of the event. For more information, visit mvyradio.com.

Making dinner a family affair.

MVRHS Culinary Arts teacher Jack O'Malley shares one of his favorite go-to recipes. – Photo by Michael Cummo

If you have a last-minute, go-to dish for a Fast Supper story you’d like to share, please send it to us at calendar@mvtimes.com.

It seems almost a requirement for developing chefs to have had a grandmother who was a fabulous cook to provide inspiration. That prerequisite is present in spades with the high school’s longtime culinary arts teacher, Jack O’Malley. “She was always trying new recipes, new ethnic cuisine,” Jack recalls. “She lived in Boston, so she had access to different ethnic markets.” And he cooked with her, although he’s not certain when he began; “I just always remember being involved,” he says.

In sixth grade, he won a blue ribbon for his construction of a bombe or bombe glacée(a molded ice cream, whipped cream, and fruit dessert) from her recipe. He began cooking in a diner while he was still in high school, and was running small family restaurants by the time he was 20. After finishing culinary arts school, he returned to his grandmother to cook her a dinner. He used her hand-cranked pasta machine to make angel-hair linguine for her. “At the end of the meal, she gave me her pasta machine,” he relates with pride. He later inherited her “cookbook,” a collection of 3 by 5 cards: “One of my aunts found them. It’s a huge binding.” He was paging through it recently, and rediscovered his blue-ribbon recipe.

Now, Jack’s own kids — twin 15-year-old boys and an 11-year-old girl (another boy, 20, is away at college) — cook along with him and his wife at home. “All three love to cook,” he says. “We divide up the prep.”

Because the kids are also active in extracurricular activities like horseback riding and basketball, dinnertime is hectic at the O’Malley house. “I have to round them up, feed them dinner, and get them started on homework,” Jack explains. The following recipe, Shrimp Vittorio, fills the bill for quick and easy. “Except for the shrimp, I usually have all the ingredients on hand,” Jack says. “And you can now buy the shrimp already peeled and deveined.”

This recipe also has sentimental value. “When my wife and I were first married, we’d go to this restaurant and it was on the menu. I adapted it. It kind of reminds me of when we were first married, didn’t have kids, and were able to go out to eat.”

There’s a smile in his voice. “My wife really liked it then, and now, too.”

Shrimp Vittorio

1 lb. penne pasta

1 Tbs.  canola oil

1 1b., or approximately 21–25, jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 Tbs. sundried tomatoes sliced in thin strips (packed in oil is easier)

2 oz. vodka

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 oz. Parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. basil chiffonade (sliced in thin strips)

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil: add penne and cook until al dente.
  2. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of water.
  3. In large sauté pan heat oil; place in shrimp (do not overcrowd; if necessary, sauté in two batches).
  4. Cook shrimp on first side until they release from the pan; turn over; cook again for one minute. Do not overcook shrimp — they will finish in the sauce.
  5. Remove shrimp from pan; return pan to heat; add garlic and sundried tomatoes; continue to cook for another minute.
  6. Remove pan from heat; deglaze with vodka (carefully put back on heat or it will ignite).
  7. Reduce liquid by half; add cream and crushed red pepper; return shrimp to pan.
  8. Cook for another minute; add cooked pasta and Parmesan cheese. Return to heat, then add reserved pasta water to achieve desired sauce consistency. Plate individual pasta bowls and garnish with basil.

What’s healthier?

A Simple Green Smoothie includes nut milk, spinach, banana, strawberries, avocado, and honey. – Photo by Marnely Rodriguez-Murray

Once the new year kicks off, most of us are scrambling to jot down a couple of resolutions. Whether we make it to February with our resolutions still intact is another story, but let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and believe that a healthier you is one of the resolutions you’ll actually keep this year.

We’ve all heard of green juices and green smoothies as part of a healthier lifestyle. We know they’re packed with vibrant ingredients that provide our bodies with needed nutrients. We know we should be chugging back the green juices on a daily basis as an addition to our diets. But we also know how tedious it is to clean that pesky juicer/blender that stands on your counter, smirking at you. Fear no more — I’ve got a couple of easy-to-clean juicer and blender recommendations, as well as an insight on juicing vs. blending.

Let’s talk about the main difference between a green juice and a green smoothie: fiber! When juicing, you’re extracting all those nutrients and vitamins from the produce, leaving behind the fiber. When you’re blending, you throw everything in the blender and go! So you’d instantly assume that blending is healthier, right? Not so fast.

Fresh ingredients for Healthy Green Detox Juice. Photo by Marnely Rodriguez-Murray
Fresh ingredients for Healthy Green Detox Juice. Photo by Marnely Rodriguez-Murray

Juicing is great for those of us that can’t digest fiber as well as others, and it’s also fantastic for people who want a quick nutrient boost. Since you don’t have to handle fiber, nutrients rush directly into the bloodstream and give you that quick fix. Just be sure to have a good balance of fruit and vegetables — too much fruit means you’ll get a sugar rush and ultimately crash.

Blending is great on occasions when your green smoothie is your only breakfast. Because of the added fiber from fruit peels and vegetable skins, you’ll be satisfied for a longer period of time, and might even make it until lunchtime without mindless snacking. Blending is also a more inexpensive option, because you’ll need less produce per serving.

So it’s up to you to decide what your body needs: a quick, nutritious boost to get the morning started with a green juice, or a heartier green smoothie that will keep you satisfied until lunchtime.

Healthy Green Detox Juice

Makes 2 servings

2 small apples, quartered

3 stalks celery

2 stalks rainbow chard

1 cup baby carrots (or 2 medium carrots)

1 inch fresh ginger root

1 large orange, quartered (not peeled!)

2 small cucumbers

Make sure to wash everything.

Run everything through the juicer and drink immediately.

Simple Green Smoothie

Makes 2 servings

1½ cups nut milk

1 handful fresh spinach leaves

1 banana, chopped

½ cup chopped strawberries

½ avocado, peeled

1 tablespoon raw local honey

Blend the nut milk and spinach leaves until fully mixed.

Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.

For moderately priced juicers, check out the Waring Pro JEX328 Health Juice Extractor or the Hamilton Beach 67650A Big Mouth Pro Juice Extractor. For moderately priced blenders, look at the Hamilton Beach Wave Crusher Multi-Function Blender or the Ninja Professional Blender 1000. Be sure to stop by LeRoux in Vineyard Haven to check out their juicer and blender offerings!

Leslie Hewson gives dinner ingredients a second chance.

The Hewsons' last-minute meal calls for leftovers plus rice, garlic, salsa, cheese, jalapeño, sour cream, and tortillas. – Photo by Michael Cummo

If you have a last-minute, go-to dish for a Fast Supper story you’d like to share, please send it to us at calendar@mvtimes.com.

Leslie and Douglas Hewson’s secret for a quick and satisfying dinner is leftovers. “If you want to put together a meal in five or 10 minutes, you have to know what you have to work with,” Leslie explains. “You have to look at what you have. We always have leftover rice or a piece of sirloin or a chicken breast or the carcass of a roast chicken.”

Leslie and Douglas Hewson are the parents of two daughters, Haley, 21 years old and living on her own, and Emily, 15. Leslie discovered the recipe for Arroz con Carne or Pollo about nine years ago, and was taken by its appeal to her girls. “It’s an old recipe,” she says. “They like all those [ingredients], so why not put it together? It’s easy, and it’s a one-pot deal.” She likes to supplement it with a salad or one of their girls’ favorite vegetables.

Leslie laughs as she recounts her daughters’ differing relationships with the dish. “[Haley’s] taken this recipe to her apartment, and she’s like ‘Oh! I can cook now!’ which I find hilarious. She doesn’t really cook. The little one seems to be more kitcheny. She has a recipe book. The first recipe she put in the book was rice. The second is the rice dish.” In fact, Emily ungrudgingly helps out in the kitchen. Leslie knows that if she has to dash out to the store, she can depend on Emily to start the potatoes or rice. “She’s really good at sides,” Leslie boasts.

Leslie and Douglas Hewson, along with their daughter Emily, enjoy their favorite last-minute meal of Arroz con Pollo. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Leslie and Douglas Hewson, along with their daughter Emily, enjoy their favorite last-minute meal of Arroz con Pollo. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The Hewsons have been in the food business for 30 years, starting in their teens. On-Island since 1998, Douglas came here to work for the Black Dog, and Leslie eventually joined the staff. He is currently executive chef at Offshore Ale. Leslie is the seasonal pastry chef for L’Etoile and Offshore Ale.

The winter presents some culinary challenges for the couple. Leslie explains, “In the fall and winter, I’ve got a minimal amount of time to feed [Emily]. She has to be picked up at the high school at 5:30. You get out of work at 5:00. It’s a small amount of time — the night’s already slipping away. You know she’s going to be hungry, and if you don’t feed them, how do you get them to do their homework? You don’t want to feed your kids at eight — which we were doing in the summertime. I know she’ll eat [the Arroz]. If she had her way, she’d put it on the schedule every week.”

But Leslie seems a bit embarrassed about the simplicity of the dish. “I know that my culinary skills have been reduced,” she says with a chuckle, “but there’s something noble about just making sure your kids have proper nutrition.”

Arroz con Carne or Pollo

Serves 4

4 cups fresh or leftover rice (use less water if making fresh, to allow for salsa liquid)

¼ onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Oil

1 cup leftover protein:  sirloin, chicken breast, roast chicken

Pinch red pepper flake (optional)

1 jar favorite salsa

1 cup loosely-packed mixed cheese: jack, cheddar, muenster, mozzarella

Salt and pepper

Optional:

Minced jalapeño

Sour cream

Black beans

Diced squash

Tortilla chips

Preparation

Look in fridge. See what you have. Proceed.

Retrieve a big pan.

Prepare protein by cutting or pulling bite-size pieces. If the protein is already cold, follow directions. If it is fresh, add at the end just before cheese step.

On medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic in oil (pepper flake optional) until soft and golden. Add protein and stir 2 minutes. Add rice, salsa, and any optional items. This is where the big pan comes in. … Stir the rice mixture till salsa is evenly distributed. Add more salsa if not wet enough. Add ⅔ cup cheese. Stir. Turn off heat. Top with remaining ⅓ cup cheese, cover with a lid or place entire pan under broiler and melt cheese.

“It’s OK to eat out of the pan, says my 15-year-old.”

Celebrating New Year’s Eve with local cocktail recipes.

Pomegranate-Grapefruit Holiday Crush with Snow. Photo by Allison Shaw.

Just because you’re the kind of person to stay home on New Year’s Eve, you’re still entitled to a good cocktail. Some of us prefer to stay home, host a party, or ring in the new year in our pajamas. Whatever your case, why not serve up some of these deliciously local cocktails in the comfort of your own home? Plan to ring in the new year with one of these new drinks.

If you’re hosting a party and plan on serving one of these local favorites also make sure to stock your bar with a variety of mixers, syrups, and garnishes so your guests can customize their own drinks. Stop by Le Roux in Vineyard Haven  — they’re stocked with a fun selection of cocktail ingredients! Freshly sliced citrus fruit, along with pomegranate seeds, frozen grapes, and natural juices make for a fun and colorful bar.

Pomegranate-Grapefruit Holiday Crush with Snow

Source: Cathy Walthers

About the drink: Keep your head during the holiday season by sipping a drink laced with rosemary, a member of the mint family that’s said to improve memory. This is a celebratory drink with holiday hues, flashing red pomegranates, evergreen rosemary branches, and a glass rimmed in snow (coconut, salt and sugar). It can easily be made ahead of time for a crowd.

“Snow” for garnishing rim:

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Cocktail:

1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1 1/2 ounces Pom pomegranate juice

2 small sprigs rosemary (one for garnish)

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup*

1 1/2 ounces vodka or tequila

Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

Combine the coconut, salt and sugar in a shallow, wide bowl. Wet the rim of a martini or rocks glass with a lime wedge and dip the glass into the snow mixture.

In a cocktail shaker, add the grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice, lime juice, one rosemary sprig, simple syrup and vodka. Fill halfway with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into the rimmed glass, filled with a few ice cubes. Garnish with the other rosemary sprig and a few pomegranate seeds, if available.

*Simple Syrup:  Add 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of boiling water and stir until dissolved. Store in a Mason jar.

Pear Bubbly

Bar: Rockfish

Source: Adam Rebello

About the drink: Crisp and refreshing, a true holiday crowd pleaser!

2 ounces Grey Goose Pear Vodka

splash of St. Germaine (elderflower liqueur)

splash of simple syrup

sparkling wine, to taste

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker and pour into a martini glass. Top with sparkling wine.

Fireball Winter Warmer

Bar: Rockfish

Source: Gavin Smith

About the drink: Beer cocktails are an up and coming culinary trend!

2 ounces Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey

Allagash White Beer, to serve

Guinness Beer, to serve

Pour the Fireball into a pint glass. Fill the glass halfway with the Allagash White beer and then gently fill the rest of the glass with the Guinness. (If poured correctly, this will create a Black and Tan effect.)

Citrus Hibiscus Fizz. Photo courtesy of  www.cookingwithbooks.net
Citrus Hibiscus Fizz. Photo courtesy of www.cookingwithbooks.net

Citrus Hibiscus Fizz

Source:www.cookingwithbooks.net

About the drink: A light cocktail with citrus and floral notes of orange blossom liqueur.

2 ounces orange juice

1 ounce Pavan liqueur (orange blossom liqueur)

1 ounces prosecco

1 tablespoon hibiscus syrup

Stir all ingredients together except the prosecco, and pour into a champagne glass. Top with Prosecco and serve.

Midnight Kiss

Bar: Henry’s Hotel Bar at the Harbor View Hotel

Source: Greg Fournier & David A. Martinello

About the drink: Slightly sweet, this drink is the perfect way to ring in the new year!

¾ ounce homemade pomegranate grenadine (Classically, grenadine is simply pomegranate juice mixed with sugar and boiled until it becomes a syrup)

5 ¼ ounces of prosecco

orange twist

Pour the grenadine into the bottom of a sparkling wine glass and top with prosecco and an orange twist.

Copperwok's Wok of Shame - an individual sake scorpion bowl. Photo courtesy Copperwok.
Copperwok’s Wok of Shame – an individual sake scorpion bowl. Photo courtesy Copperwok.

Wok of Shame

Bar: Copper Wok

Source: JB Blau

About the drink: An individual sake scorpion bowl, for those that don’t want to share!

chilled sake

pineapple juice

cranberry juice

orange juice

splash of cream of coconut

Mix together the sake and juices, along with cream of coconut. Serve over ice with an orange wedge and cherry. Measurements are up to you: depending on your preference, just add a splash of this and a dash of that!

 

LeRoux's April Levandowski feeds her family this easy, seasonal recipe when she’s short on time.

This local bay scallop dinner is a fan favorite in April Levandowski's home. Photo by April Levandowski.

Who could be busier than April and Michael Levandowski during the holidays? The hubbub ends on Christmas Day for Santa, but these two have five kitchen/home/gourmet shops to tend to all year long. Once the Christmas shopping is over, it’s time to prepare for New Years parties. Yet, the couple still finds time to entertain. Their go-to recipe for company dinner during the holiday chaos is Martha’s Vineyard Bay Scallops with Squash, Mashed Potatoes, and Greens. It’s easy, it’s foolproof, and it’s satisfying. April defines it as “elegant comfort food.”

The couple own the LeRoux stores – LeRoux at Home and LeRoux Gourmet in Vineyard Haven, and three LeRoux Kitchen stores in New Hampshire and Maine. Islanders since 1988, they’ve owned many retail businesses and an inn, but, with both enjoying an interest in cooking, decided to focus on food and domestics shops. “We struggled with Martha’s Vineyard,” April explains, “in terms of the availability of tools and good things to cook.” So, they decided to turn LeRoux Clothing (which they already owned) into a kitchen/home store. “It wasn’t so much an opportunity,” April says, “as ‘I can’t believe we can’t find a place to buy a nice pan on Martha’s Vineyard!’ We’d have to go off-Island or use the internet. And (at that time) the internet wasn’t even so much an option.”

The Levandowskis developed the recipe with a desire to showcase their favorite local ingredient. “The Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops are like candy,” April says. “They’re gems. They are something that is very special to us.” So much so, that when visiting friends during a Florida vacation, the Levandowskis had them air shipped from the Island so their friends could taste them.

The recipe also had to be easy. It’s fifteen minutes to marinate the scallops, and the other components can be put together in the meantime. And it’s seasonally colorful. “It doesn’t have red for Christmas,” April says. “But the bright orange! And the fresh rosemary! We like the way it looks on the plate.”

Bay scallops marinating. Photo by April Levandowski.
Bay scallops marinating. Photo by April Levandowski.

MV Bay Scallops with Squash, Mashed potatoes and Greens

Serves 4 (plan about ⅓ lb. of scallops per person)

1–1¼ lb bay scallops

¼ olive oil

¼ cup dry vermouth

2 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary

Salt & fresh cracked pepper

1 butternut squash seeded and quartered

4-6 medium size yellow potatoes, washed and quartered

Preparation

Clean scallops by removing the white rectangular connecting muscle.

Rinse thoroughly and drain.

In a bowl, combine olive oil, dry vermouth, scallops, rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir, cover, and refrigerate for at least 15 but no more than 60 minutes..

In the meantime, prepare squash and mashed potatoes.

Squash

Heat oven to 400

Place 1 tsp of butter, maple syrup & brown sugar into cavity.

Add salt & pepper

Bake until soft (45-60 min)

When squash is done, remove and cover with foil to keep warm.

Mashed Potatoes

Place washed and quartered yellow potatoes in saucepan filled ¾ with salted water.

Boil until tender.

Drain.

Add butter, cream, salt and pepper and mash. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Set aside and reheat slightly before serving.

Oven to Broil

Using a slotted spoon, transfer marinated scallops to a baking dish.

Broil until caramelized (maybe 10 min.).

While broiling scallops, prepare your choice of green vegetable to serve alongside the scallops.

Assembly

Place squash wedge onto plate or shallow bowl.

Fill cavity with mashed potatoes.

Place one fourth of the scallops on top of the potatoes.

Arrange sautéed or steamed greens (arugula, spinach, broccolini, etc) alongside.

Enjoy!

A season of Wampanoag cookery.

Among the Wampanoag, winter months are known as the Time of the Long Moon. – Photo by Steve Myrick

For earth-wise indigenous peoples, intimate and profound knowledge of the seasons form the rich foundation of cultural sustainability over millennia. The traditional cookery of the Wampanoag of the Cape and Islands evolved in harmony with what the land and sea could provide, with the innovative techniques the people employed to yield a rich bounty, and with the cyclic turning of the dramatic New England seasons.

wampanoag_cookery“We began planning for the cold season long before it arrived,” writes Chief Flying Eagle of the Mashpee Wampanoags in the Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook, co-written by Betty Breen of Falmouth. “The pole beans would be tied together with the squash and corn to unite the Three Sisters. Most onions, carrots, and beets were kept in the salt hay and soil in the cellar, but some were left in the ground under salt hay to sweeten with the first frost… Meanwhile, because of the cold, we’d be getting ready to slaughter a pig.”

Winter months, or Quinne Keeswush, Papsaquoho, Paponakeeswush, are also known as the Time of the Long Moon, the season when the darkness of night has seized the sky and the cold of winter has seized the land. In traditional times, dried legumes, berries, vegetables, cured meats, and seasonings would be collected and stored carefully in pits, near or inside the wigwams. Wampanoag Cookery, published by the Boston’s Children’s Museum in 1974, says that people “lined the pits with mats, carefully put in their dried vegetables, meats, and nuts and covered the pit with another mat and heaped earth on top of all of it. When people needed food in the winter, they would get it from these pits, with the exception of a fish caught through the ice or animals taken in traps.”

Recipes survive as a complex interplay of oral and active traditions. Foodways evolve with modernized techniques and ingredients, yet seek to replicate the essence of how a dish tasted the first time, way back, in our unalterable cultural sense-memory. “Winter is the time when the land rests,” says Wampanoag Cookery, and yet the simple abundance of the traditional table should be admired for the inspired dishes that sustained and warmed people as the wind and ice wrapped the darkest days of the year.

Deer Stew
Recipe by Helen Attaquin, as it appears in Wampanoag Cookery

Brown two to three pounds of deer meat cut into pieces in bacon fat. Add two large sliced onions and continue browning. When nicely browned, stir in 3 tbsp. flour and place in baking dish. Add 2 tbsp. vinegar, 3 tbsp. ketchup, 1 tbsp. sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the meat with water and bake at 375ºF degrees for two to three hours, until the meat is tender, adding water if necessary to keep the meat covered. When done, thicken the gravy and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Gay Head Beach Plum Porridge
Recipe by Rachel Jeffers, as it appears in Wampanoag Cookery

First parboil raisins (beach plums) and pour off the water. Then add fresh water and boil until tender. Heat milk and add sugar to taste, also butter and nutmeg. Then add a bit of flour thickening.

Wild Duck
Recipe by Earl Mills Sr., Chief Flying Eagle, as it appears in Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Stuff duck cavity with sliced apples and celery tops. Place strips of bacon over the breast and add 1½ cups of water or chicken stock, along with the neck and giblets, to the pan. For a well-done duck, roast 15 minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes with the fat stock in the pan, along with a mixture of 2 tbsp. of butter and ½ cup red wine.

Goodin’ Puddin’ and Goodin’ Puddin’ Pie
Recipe by Ruth Ellis and Norman and Shirley Stolz, as it appears in Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease 8” by 4” by 4” loaf pan with 2 tsp. cooking oil. Add 1 cup cranberries, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ cup chopped nuts to loaf pan. Beat ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup melted butter, and 1 egg until smooth. Fold in flour and pour mixture over berries. Bake for 45 minutes. You may double the recipe and bake in a deep-dish pie plate, for 6 to 8 servings.

Because why wouldn’t you want to paint your Christmas cookies?!

Red and white sugar cookie pinwheels were quickly devoured while still warm. No wonder. –Photos by Michael Cummo

Cookies mean Christmas to me. I’ve fond memories of my mother piping spritz cookies in the shapes of wreaths, crosses, and trees onto baking sheets. It was always a magical moment when Mom would sprinkle chocolate chips over hot toffee cookies and the heat would turn them gooey and shiny.

From right, Joyce Wagner rolls out dough for cookies while Cathy Nee and Diane Hartmann look on.
From right, Joyce Wagner rolls out dough for cookies while Cathy Nee and Diane Hartmann look on.

She’d roll out Kolachkys and spread them with apricot or poppy seed fillings, she’d dip irons coated with batter into hot oil to make the delicate rosettes, and roll sandcastle-fragile almond crescents in powdered sugar.

Any idea how hard it is to try to make Santa’s “nice” list by hunkering down to homework when those delicious sweet and buttery smells are wafting from the kitchen?

I’m grown now and Mom is half a continent away, so I’ve started my own Christmas patisserie tradition — the Cookie Painting Party. Last year was kind of a trial run, but this year ran like chocolate at a Hershey’s factory.

My day began at six when I pulled the dough I made the week before from the fridge and baked bread. It’s a mostly foolproof method and, although there’s a bit of prep at the onset, it’s easy and the results are fabulous.

From left, Debra Gaines, Pamela Danz and Teresa Tuan paint cookies.
From left, Debra Gaines, Pamela Danz and Teresa Yuan paint cookies.

Sail-charter captain Diane Hartmann (who is also my BFF and housemate) and I set up a table in the living room for my chili, bread, and the potluck goodies to come. I started rolling out and cutting cookie dough (which I made and refrigerated the night before) at one o’clock. Last year I waited until the guests arrived before starting, and that put me behind. I doubled the recipe (which follows) but, it turns out, didn’t need to. There was a lot of dough left over.

By two, when women from my Zumba classes, my ballroom group, the CSA I volunteer at, and lots of old friends started gathering in my kitchen, I had several baking sheets covered with cut-out cookie blanks ready for painting. The friends who were new to the process doubtfully eyed the brushes and small containers of “paint.” Really — applying egg yolk and food coloring onto raw cookie dough?

Personalize blank cookies with egg white paint .
Personalize blank cookies with egg white paint .

Besides my turkey chili and bread, the table in the living room began filling with such delectables as turkey soup with orzo, artichoke dip, hummus (naturally), and one of artist, landscaper, and cooking teacher Teresa Yuan’s yummy Asian noodle creations.

Cathy Nee — whom I’m considering elevating to best-pal status — brought gingerbread martinis. Because four of the six ingredients are liquor and we had a mission, we sipped. That took a lot of restraint.

The experienced and reluctant painters gathered around the dining room table, and began to work. Manipulating shared cookie sheets of raw dough blanks elicited laughter and conversation among women who’d only just met. Half-size cookie sheets (available at LeRoux) allowed some cookie artists to work solo.

Brenda Buck, a part-time pharmacist at the hospital, brought dough for Red & White Sugar Cookie Pinwheels. These were the first into the oven, and quickly devoured while still warm. Brenda substituted raspberry extract for the peppermint and used jimmies instead of sprinkles — and we all agreed the results were terrific.

Soon the first batch of adorned cookies was ready for the oven. When I took them out, I was redeemed. We oohed. We aahed.

By three, the neophyte cookie painters had mastered the art and fabulous creations were emerging from the oven. I was rolling and cutting like an elf on deadline now, and still couldn’t keep up with the demand. I would do one roll-out for each chunk of dough and tossed the scraps back into the fridge.

By four, we were hot, exhausted, fed, and fortified by martinis. I’d made a lot of small cookies for the learning curve, and we all got to taste some of the rejects. The painters picked out their masterpieces and we packaged them up for the trips home. There was a lot of dough left over, and, because I would be leaving the Island for a week and wouldn’t have time to use it, almost everyone took some.

At four-thirty a few women remained, sitting around the dining room table, indulging in the martinis, and admiring our work. I quickly rolled out one more tray, and, while enjoying the conversation, painted my own bunch.

So, the recipe follows. One batch makes about seven dozen 3-inch cookies. The dough can also be baked without the “paint,” and decorated with icing and fancy sugars when cooled. I’ve also included a meringue cookie recipe you can make with all the leftover egg whites.

I’ve not included the nutrition and calorie contents because you don’t want to know. It’s Christmas: indulge.

Painted Christmas Cutouts

Cookies

2 cups butter, softened

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

2 cups sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract (The good stuff. Don’t cheap it out. Makes a difference.)

4-½ cups all-purpose flour

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour. Make into disks (adding flour just as needed), wrap in plastic wrap and chill two hours or until firm (I do this the evening before I want to roll them out and refrigerate overnight).

Take out one disk at a time and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling. Roll on a floured surface to ¼”. Cut with cookie cutters. I begin with small, simple ones so that the painters can get used to the brushes and techniques before tackling larger ones. Place on cookie sheets.

Using clean brushes, paint with egg yolk paint. Don’t cheap out on brushes: you don’t have to spend a lot, but if the brushes are ten for a dollar, you’re going to find brush hairs in your cookies.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes (cookies should be set and barely browned around the edges). Cool 5 to 10 minutes on cookie sheets, then remove to cooling racks.

Cookie paint

Approximately seven drops of food coloring per color

1 egg yolk per color

Put egg yolks into small containers. Add the food coloring and stir until well-blended.

Mini Chip Meringues

Note: If possible, wait for a dry day to work with meringue. Humidity makes it very difficult to handle. Also, believe it or not, older egg whites work better than fresh.

4 large egg whites

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

2 cups (16 oz.) Semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a small mixer bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the chocolate chips, a little at a time. Drop by level tablespoons (or pipe if you’re brave) onto greased baking sheets.

Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the meringues are dry and crisp. Cool on sheets for two minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.

Debra Gaines’s recipe for Gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free Christmas Cutout Cookies

2 ½ cups blanched almond flour

½ tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 egg (beaten)

½ cup coconut oil (melted)

3 tbs. agave syrup

3 tbs. honey

2 tbs. vanilla extract (bourbon)

½ tsp. orange zest

Mix almond flour, salt and baking soda in one bowl.

Mix beaten egg, agave, honey, vanilla, orange zest and the coconut oil (warm, not hot so as not to cook the egg) in another bowl.

Combine in one bowl or a food processor like I did to really mix the ingredients together.

Roll dough into one or two big balls, wrap each one in wax paper and chill until dough is firm and can be rolled out. (This step took a lot longer than I thought it would. In fact, I finally put it in the freezer. I recommend making this dough the night before you wish to use it; but the freezer did work!)

Roll dough out either between wax paper sheets or with a light gluten-free flour (such as rice flour). Cut out the shapes and place in a greased cookie sheet.

Add sprinkles if desired, or leave plain to frost later (coconut cream would be awesome).

Bake at 350 for 11–12 minutes.

People even forget to celebrate National Fruitcake Day on Dec. 27.

Is there a dessert with a worse reputation than fruitcake? –Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

What’s the deal with fruitcake? How can a dessert possibly suffer from bad PR? How can something full of sugar, fat, and fruit, soaked in alcohol, be relegated to the ranks of such universally disdained foods as lima beans, Brussels sprouts, and liver? The two halves independently sound good — fruit and cake. Yet the final product, somehow, becomes far less than the sum of its parts. What has made this basically harmless (harmless, that is, until it’s flung at someone’s head) confection the object of so much scorn?

Well, part of the problem is overexposure. The classic fruitcake is an amalgamation of dried fruits and nuts, sugar, a little flour, and eggs, which is then soaked in rum or other spirits. The dried ingredients and the high sugar and alcohol content combine to produce a natural wonder of preservation. This long shelf life made the fruitcake the perfect mail-order item in the days before chemical preservatives. American companies started distributing fruitcakes by mail in 1913. As with all things, mass production and competition for price point led to inferior quality and the use of cheaper ingredients (including those cheerfully toxic-looking red and green cherries). Fruitcakes also became synonymous with charity drives, and you know how people feel about anything they’re guilted into purchasing.

The indestructibility of the fruitcake also makes it an ideal regifting item. This practice became so notorious that Johnny Carson put the nail in the coffin of the fruitcake’s reputation when on The Tonight Show he famously quipped, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

The joke was so popular that decades later, “Ask the Fruitcake Lady” became a running segment on The Tonight Show, and Jay Leno sampled a 125-year-old “heirloom” fruitcake on air in 2003.

While the fruitcake may be despised by many today, it has a long and illustrious history as a popular dessert throughout the Western world. But there’s also a sordid side to the fruitcake’s past. In the early 18th century the cake was outlawed throughout continental Europe on the charge that it was “sinfully rich.”

Fruitcake is the traditional wedding cake in Great Britain. Beneath the ornate white fondant façade of the centerpiece of the 2011 royal wedding lurked a fruitcake (draped in marzipan!). In this country, the cake is most popular in the South, where many of the original mail-order suppliers are still located. In the early part of the last century, Southerners tended to load their fruitcakes with one of their most abundant resources — nuts, leading to the expression “nutty as a fruitcake.”

This phrase probably hasn’t helped the confection’s image much. The scorn inflicted on the fruitcake has taken a decidedly vicious turn recently, as evidenced by the annual Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colo., and an initiative called the Great Fruitcake Recycling Project, whose website lists such suggestions for repurposing fruitcakes as using them for doorstops, hammers, speed bumps, car trunk weights, and dartboards. The Recycling Project will also accept, by mail, any unwanted fruitcakes to pass along to more appreciative recipients.

Some people apparently love fruitcake. It was reputedly one of Princess Grace’s favorites. There’s even a National Fruitcake Day — Dec. 27.

And judging by a recent Facebook inquiry, there are many on the Island who not only like the dense dessert, but make their own. Traditionally, fruitcakes are prepared around Thanksgiving to allow time for saturation and flavor infusion. Truman Capote’s mostly autobiographical short story “A Christmas Memory” relates the the adventures of a young boy and his elderly aunt who spend days gathering ingredients and preparing for their annual holiday baking. It all starts on a frosty morn in late November when Aunt Sook proclaims, “It’s fruitcake weather!” (Incidentally, Capote’s real aunt was the Tonight Show’s Fruitcake Lady).

Betty Burton’s fruitcake

Betty Burton in Oak Bluffs has adapted her grandmother’s fruitcake recipe to make it a little more healthy — as healthy as something with sugar and molasses loaded with a rum kick can be. She replaces much of the candied fruit with dried or fresh fruit, but keep in mind that dried fruits have to soak for a few hours before they are used.

1 cup raisins

½ cup dates

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup dried cherries

½ cup chopped fresh or canned pineapple

zest of one lemon

zest of one orange

¼ cup candied ginger, chopped

½ cup pecans, broken into pieces

½ cup orange juice

1 cup rum

1¼ stick unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup molasses

2 eggs

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Brandy for basting and/or spritzing

Mix the dried fruits in a large bowl with the orange juice and rum. Set aside to marinate for at least three hours.

Heat oven to 325ºF. Cream butter. Add sugar and molasses. Add eggs lightly beaten. Add pineapple and dried fruits with all the liquid.

Combine dry ingredients (including spices). Mix bit by bit into the butter batter. Fold in nuts. Spoon into a 10-inch greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, spritzing with brandy several times during baking time. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If no batter sticks to toothpick, cake is done. Cool on a baking rack completely before turning out of pan.

Pair a fruitcake with wine

We asked the Times’ new wine columnist, Sam Decker, what would be the ideal pairing for fruitcake. Here’s what he said: “Tawny port all way. Port, it could be said, is the fruitcake of the wine world.”

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.