“Fresh from the Vineyard,” by Virginia Crowell Jones, illustrations by Juliet Kraetzer, Firefox Marine Consulting, LLC, 2011. 81 pp. $20.
The foreword in Virginia Crowell Jones’ new cookbook, “Fresh from the Vineyard,” is written by Ali Berlow, who offers a tribute to Ms. Jones’ chosen way of life, her commitment to the Island, to conservation, locally grown products, Vineyard-style home cooking, and good food.
“This cookbook is already a family heirloom so make it your own, as it is a true and sincere testament to a home kitchen by an authentic voice,” she writes. Her words are validated in the pages that follow.
The author’s Introduction and Purpose is a course in nature, kitchen equipment, and the selection, care, and handling of food that is expanded on throughout the book.
Ms. Jones includes questions to pose at the farm stand and at the market about what soil treatments were applied, and whether animals were fed growth hormones. She offers facts — “An oyster can actually filter up to 25 gallons of water a day,” rules — “Place greens, berries and similar products in the refrigerator but don’t wash them until just before you serve,” and tips — “I only use salt in baking — where it can affect the taste and result — but not in cooking.”
“Fresh from the Vineyard” is clearly more than a collection of recipes; it’s a thesis on Island life at its most basic — respect for its history, for its natural environment, and for the sustenance it supplies. It is both the whisper and shout of a passionate Earth Mother whose practical messages are infused into the chapters on Breakfast, Lunch, Supper, Desserts, and a chapter called Oddities, etc., and Chutney, Preserves, Jams & Jellies, Pickles & Condiments.
Many of Ms. Jones’ recipes come in paragraph form without being preceded by lists of ingredients or measurements (she recommends a “pinch” of this, a “bit” of that). But in a conversational tone, she provides recipes with all the how’s and why’s, and even describes what kind of pans to use. There are suggestions for finishing touches, but there are no glossy colorful photos of prepared dishes on facing pages. (It’s not likely they will be missed.)
The Breakfast chapter includes Squash Muffins, French Toast (use “nice stale crusty bread”), Rhubarb, and a free form recipe for Quiche. Among its many varieties of salads, Lunch includes Tatsoi Salad “(for a lot of people) from Mermaid Farm,” Pickled Beets, Boatyard Soup, and a menu for “A Rustic Island Lunch” that begins with oysters in the half shell (better in months that have an “r”) and ends with “Chilmark Chocolates for dessert.”
And again in paragraph form, the recipes in Suppers, which include lamb, poultry, beef and pork, fish and shellfish, and vegetables and chowders, also tells how to make a Greek stew, Pumpkin Flan, corn pudding, and a cream cheese dip she calls, “Neufchatel Schmear.”
Ms. Jones refers to her book as a “guide,” and acknowledges “cross-cultural adaptations on how communities use various ingredients.” She writes: “I’ll often mentally adapt a recipe to a different ingredient, sometimes quite radically. Also, I’ve also done a lot of cooking at sea, in sometimes very challenging conditions and with a limited range of ingredients, so I’ve been forced to adapt.”
Filled with the benefit of the author’s own experience, “Fresh from the Vineyard” provides a friend in the kitchen, as well as passionate support for eating fresh and local.
Hot Milk Cake
This is an old Vineyard recipe, often served with yellow tomato conserve and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Don’t even think of frosting this simple cake or trying to make it fancy; this is plain food simply prepared and absolutely delicious. The recipe, given to me many years ago by Mildred Huntington is, verbatim: “2 eggs well beaten; add 1 C sugar gradually and beat thoroughly. Add ½; C flour with 1 tsp baking powder and a little salt, and 1 tsp vanilla. Add another ½; C flour, ½; C milk heated in which rounded tsp butter has been melted. This batter is thin.” Bake slowly (325 to 350 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes).