From “The Urge to Create”: Baker Juli Vanderhoop

Juli Vanderhoop runs Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah. —Amber Bettencourt

We sometimes wonder how many people living on the Vineyard are actively engaged in creative pursuits. Is it 10 percent? Thirty percent? More? In “The Urge to Create: Vineyard Portraits,” Jane Dreeben collected 50 written and photographic profiles of Island artists and creative people. As we perused this book, we started wondering about Volumes 2, 3, and 4. How many volumes of 50 could there be on one Island?

Below is an edited excerpt from the book, which is available at Bunch of Grapes.

My full name is Julianne Vanderhoop. I was born in Oak Bluffs, Mass., and raised in Aquinnah, which was then called Gay Head. My mom is Ann Vanderhoop and my dad is William Vanderhoop. I was away for approximately 17 or 18 years, moved back to the Island about 10 years ago, always doing summers here. I returned home to the land of my people, which are historically known as the Wampanoag people, tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). So this is home to me, and it’s been the land where I’ve come from forever, since the beginning of written history.

I think I’ve always known what my family has given me, and that’s to be creative. My brothers — a pack of heroes — could come up with a plan on the spot, and come to someone’s rescue. And out here, we’re 20 miles away from everything. Being creative is sometimes going to save your life or your neighbor’s life. As a child, I was let to roam in a place that’s often harsh, a harsh environment. I was not watched over a lot. I had to become thoughtful, to be ingenious, and not get hurt by the environment, and then to help others. Being raised in Aquinnah, I think many families up here were always saying that they extended themselves to others who didn’t have enough, and that the community came through.

I was taught baking by my stepfather, Luther Madison, as well as my mother. It was something that we did every day. Every day. For me, the seventh child, it was a schedule that I could count on. It was something that our lives were structured around, and that was always a great thing. We had to hunt here, so having food on our table, which wasn’t always easy, was a blessing. Really learning what food meant was important.

That was a wonderful thing that was given to me. I could see the makers that were around me. They were native people using the things that we had, from the earth, from the gardens that grew. Teaching me about what foods I can eat, what herbs I can use. We could use the clay in the cliffs, that my people have used to sell; the shellfish in the ocean; fishing. And using every single bit of that to create your own sustenance — always a struggle. I think that when I left, I missed that struggle. So it became beautiful to me, what I saw. And then I absolutely fell in love with it.

I moved back here with my family almost 10 years ago, knowing always that this was a wonderful place to be with children, and for community. That started something. I feel a deep connection with being here, with holding this old way, this historic land, and progressing into the future. Aquinnah is a very old area with a lot of special, unique features, and it is really important for me to remember the history as well as to live here. Many of my people, native people, have had to move for jobs, being faced with the struggles that we have here. Not only my people, but other youth, a younger generation, have had to move away because of the unaffordability of housing or lack of jobs.

I was looking for something to do with a business. I was told by a friend of mine to build an oven because I baked for my children. She would watch as people came over at teatime; they would look at my counter every day to see what I had made. I built this oven myself with a couple of lead masons and one college student, to try to build a year-round business that would help the community. If we were to build something that the people love, then we can exist here and make a living. All of that will hopefully lead us to the next step, which is the development, in a gentle way, of Aquinnah. It represents what we can do. Traditionally you would build an oven like this in a community that’s far away, and you bring your community together to provide a meal or meals, and cook as a community. Over the course of time, I have seen just how wonderful the community that the oven brings to it has been. And it’s always with those wishes, and positive thoughts, that we move forward as the smallest micro-bakery on the Vineyard.

I don’t think that what I’ve been able to do could ever be done without so many good thoughts and hopes put up behind it, because what we do here is immense. My assistants know it, and it’s something quite magical. In the summertime here we lift between 400 and 700 pounds of bread a day.

My love of breads and baking is the process, the slow process where everything takes its time and happens quite naturally. Most of my breads are ferments. They cannot be rushed. What you get as a finished product is beautiful. I wanted to put the love back into food for my children and my family. To create a story around it; it’s a very romantic thing for me. I am in love with that.

The best of lessons for me was patience, and I am one of the most impatient people in the world. So my baking is a standard that I have to go with; to be patient, wait. It will give you many returns. Patience is not just something that you learn in one day, or one week, or one year. It’s learned every single day. And the world needs a lot of it, to be thoughtful and giving. Hopefully you will be able to do some good. It’s more like a meditation.

I’ve grown into it. It’s just the story that came; I didn’t realize what was happening. I’ve been a fan of outdoor cooking for as long as I can remember — you know, the pit fires, my own attraction to fires, the fire in this oven, the way that it burns. I checked out many wood-fired ovens prior to this. I would say the oven has a life of its own, that it gives back. From the process that it was made with to the hearth that it is. There’s a time capsule underneath the cement slab that we built in. It was a labor of love to begin with.

The baking has given me so much. Much more than just a loaf of bread. It’s visual. It’s introduced me to different people from around the world. Seeing people come here and break our bread and share our bread, and appreciate what we do, is so much more than mass production on a mega scale. Bakers don’t get rich. We do it for what we love. There’s something about this community and doing this here, baking small amounts, but yet enough. It’s an example for the next generation. It’s satisfying. I hope that I can set some kind of example.

From what I’ve seen, we have been a standard for the past eight years, for people to come to Aquinnah on a regular basis. We have something else to give that we do up here, and it really put us on the map. The example of a thriving, wholesome business that people love. I hope that there are many, many more at some point. Baking has given back to me. It’s nearly unheard-of on a year-round basis. We’re here. The door is never locked. The light is always on. I’ve seen people come up with flashlights in hurricanes to have a cookie or something warm.

Juli Vanderhoop is the owner of Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah.