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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.

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.

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.

Amy Williams’s chili gets its kick from bourbon.

Photo courtesy of Amy Williams

Even in the slow season, many of us have frantic days where eating is almost an afterthought. If we have more than ourselves to feed, it can become a source of stress in itself. So, how do we provide healthy meals for ourselves and our families in limited time without sacrificing health benefits, eye appeal, and flavor? In this ongoing series, Islanders share their quick, go-to recipes.

Amy Simcik Williams cooks big. She is the involved mother of Rosalyn, a third-grader, and a helpmate in her husband Seth’s plumbing business in addition to her commitments to Island community service, so she hasn’t a lot of time to cadge together an evening meal. So, she cooks ahead.

“The reason we would need a fast supper,” Amy explains, “is because our lives kind of revolve around the school schedule and my husband is busy in his line of work and we’re usually coming together around dinner time. Making that part of the day less stressful and easier to get together is a priority for us. Having a meal that’s ready to go and easy to serve is especially beneficial.”

Amy devised her turkey chili recipe on her own. “I was with some friends and we were talking about what to have for dinner one night,” she recalls. “A young friend of mine — a teenager — said ‘How about chili?’” Tired of the usual fare, Amy decided to make it with turkey instead of the usual beef. “I wanted to add more vegetables, but I also wanted to make it meaty. Seth likes heartier foods.”

At Cronig’s, she found Plainville Ground Turkey and continued around the store to pick up ingredients that would seem to enhance the dish. “I bought three kinds of beans,” she says.

And the bourbon? “I thought, turkey can be kind of bland, so I was trying to think of some sort of liquid that would give it some extra flavor in addition to the kick of the chili spices.”

Besides the convenience of keeping it stashed in the refrigerator, Amy likes the versatility of the dish. “Chili recipes are pretty straightforward,” she says, “and you can adapt them to your taste any way you want. You can use more beans and less meat, substitute sweet potato instead of butternut squash. If you want to add onions, add onions.”

For health reasons, Amy cooks gluten and dairy free. Instead of corn bread, she serves the chili with Late July Multi-Grain Corn Tortilla Chips. “What I like about this recipe,” she says, “is that I can make a lot of it and we can eat off of it for almost a week. We have it available for lunch and/or dinner. That way I will have a back-up for a night that I don’t have time to cook a meal.

“It sits in the fridge and it seems like the longer it sits, the better it tastes.”

img_0117Bourbon Turkey Chili

Serves 8 to 10

5 4-oz. pkgs. of Plainville Natural ground turkey

1/8 cup grapeseed oil

1 1/2 Tbs. paprika

2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. black pepper

7 or 8 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp. sea salt

3 shot glasses of Knob Creek Bourbon

Add oil and ground turkey to Le Creuset or other large French/Dutch oven, cook at low to medium heat, adding spices, garlic, salt, and bourbon. Stir together and cook, mixing and chopping turkey mixture occasionally.

1 jar Amy’s (brand-name) family organic pasta sauce, or choose your favorite pasta sauce, and add some water from rinsing jar (1/2 cup).

2 26-oz. POMI (boxes) chopped tomatoes

1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-oz can of red beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-oz can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 1/2 cups of butternut squash, cubed small

1 bunch of cilantro washed and finely chopped, without stems.

When the turkey is thoroughly cooked after mixing and chopping up large pieces with a wooden spoon, stir in tomato sauce, water, and the chopped tomatoes. Then add the beans (drained and rinsed well) and butternut squash. Stir ingredients. Cook together for 30 minutes over low to medium heat, cover pot. Check and stir occasionally.

After 30 minutes or so, add the cilantro. Mix together and let cook for another 30 to 40 minutes, until butternut squash is softened and all flavors marry. Add extra salt or pepper as desired. The chili tastes even better after a couple of days in the refrigerator.

Reheat slowly, adding a little water to soften cold chili. You can freeze the chili once it has thoroughly cooked and cooled, storing it in plastic freezer bags.

A new book, with a little help from her friends.

Kale, bean and vegetable soup. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

Excerpted from “Kale, Glorious Kale” by Catherine Walthers and photographs by Alison Shaw.

New from Vineyard Stories.
New from Vineyard Stories. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

I thoroughly enjoy being a cookbook author in a local community. People are so supportive. Both Rusty Gordon from Ghost Island Farm and Debby Farber from Blackwater Farm let me roam their fields and use their kale to test in many dishes. Debby introduced me to baby kale — which is something everyone should try -— it’s so tender and delicious. A lot of the local farmers sell baby kale now at the stands and farmers market and I have a whole chapter of recipes. Early fall is a perfect time to plant baby kale in your garden.

A number of local people contributed recipes as well — Tamara Weiss loves kale and gave me Kale Revolution in a bowl -— a massaged kale salad with lemon, garlic, hazelnuts and goji berries that people love. Chris Fischer has his Kale Caesar Salad in there; and Jim Feiner created a kale-slaw. [There’s also] photographer Randi Baird’s kale farro salad — a favorite of mine, private chef Nicole Cabot’s kale veggie burgers, Jessica Roddy’s kale and feta pizza and cheesemaker Jackee Foster’s kale, cranberry and apple salad. I got some great ideas — such as the kale latkes from my friend Sarah Vail, and a tortilla kale soup idea from Laura Roosevelt. People are so supportive on the Island — I run into people all the time who make recipes from previous books and send books to their friends. Of course, this is the third book I’ve done with Alison and I feel very lucky to have her translating my recipes into photos…  And of course, my husband Dave and son, who ate kale with me each and everyday during a six month kale testing period (140 days straight).

Kale, Bean and Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

This is a quick-cooking soup ready in less than 45 minutes to make use of fall garden or farmer’s market vegetables, including your kale.  I enjoy the bright green hue of kale cooked separately in this soup. To skip that extra step, add kale directly to soup after it’s simmered for 10 minutes.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 whole leek, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and sliced

2 cups butternut squash, cut into 3/4 inch dice

4 carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 celery stalks, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

6 cups water

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices, or 1 cup freshly roasted home tomatoes

5 cups kale, (about 1 small bunch), stalks removed, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed well with hot water

Salt and pepper

1. In a soup pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the leek, butternut squash, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté until leek is wilted, 8 – 10 minutes, stirring often. Add chili powder and oregano and stir 1-2 minutes until fragrant.

2. Add the water, a few pinches of salt and the tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are cooked, but not falling apart.

3. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan and cook the kale, covered, in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, and add to soup, along with beans. Season with additional salt, until the flavors pop, and pepper.

Butternut Squash, Kale and Corn

Serves 4

alison_shaw_photo-0553
Kale with butternut squash and corn. (Photo by Alison Shaw).

This is an attractive combo of three fall favorites, especially in that period when squash comes to markets, but fresh local Morning Glory Farm corn is still available. If you can’t find fresh corn – which does add a nice light crunch – try the Cascadian Farms frozen corn. We love this side dish with seared scallops and a basil or lemon sauce.

1/2 bunch kale, leaves stripped off stalks, chopped into bite-sized pieces ( 4 to 5 cups)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 -3/4-inch dice (3 -4 cups)

2 ears corn, kernels removed from cob (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper

1 lime, quartered

1. In a large skillet with a lid, bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the kale. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until tender, 4 – 6 minutes, depending on the kale. Drain in a colander, shaking a few times, to release steam and stop the cooking.

2. Dry the skillet and add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the butternut squash and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and cooked without falling apart, about 15 minutes. Add a few pinches of salt while cooking. (The pan should be large enough to fit squash in a single layer). Add the corn, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper and cook 4 to 5 additional minutes, until corn is cooked. When ready to serve, add the kale back into the pan and stir gently to warm. Add another pinch of salt for the kale. Squeeze a little lime into the dish or pass lime wedges around for people to squeeze their own.

Event

Alison Shaw and Catherine Walthers will be signing copies of their new book on Sunday, September 7, 4-6 PM at the Alison Shaw Gallery, Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs. www.alisonshaw.com. In addition to books, and Alison’s “Best of” new work from the 2014 season, Cathy will be providing taste samples of kale recipes from the book.  

— Island Grown Schools

Tender green leaves of perennial herbs are one of the first things to grow in the garden, poking out from under last year’s dried stems to herald the warmer weather. Mint, marjoram, oregano, thyme, and chives are finally tall enough for their first harvest and help reassure us that our gardens will grow again.

Herb plants can be purchased from a local nursery, and they are very easy to grow in a small garden or in pots. As farm stands begin to open up for business around the Island, find the first small bunches of spring herbs for sale.

Try adding fresh herbs such as dill, chives, or basil into your salad for a little bit of extra flavor. Pour boiling water over mint, steep for five minutes, and strain for a refreshing, digestive tea after dinner. Extra, unused herbs can be chopped and packed into ice cube trays with water, wine, or a little bit of stock. These herbal ice cubes can be stored in a plastic bag and pulled out a few at a time to flavor soups, sauces or pasta.

Chive pesto

Try making this chive variation on pesto, a little bit spicier than traditional basil pesto.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 large bunch chives
  • olive oil

Directions:

Place sunflower seeds into bowl of food processor. Run food processor to chop the sunflower seeds. When they are sufficiently chopped, add in the garlic. Run processor until everything resembles a crumble. Add chives, lemon juice and about 2 Tbs. oil into food processor. Process until it starts to resemble a paste. Add olive oil by the Tbs. until it reaches desired consistency.Taste and add a pinch of salt and pepper.

For more information on Harvest of the Month and Island Grown Schools, visit islandgrownschools.org.

Emily Duncker is the Preschool Coordinator for Island Grown Schools.