More than a meal

Keeping food traditions and memories alive.


The barn doors were open, rows of chairs faced the speaker, a table was spread with delicious Fantzye (pronounced fancy) Bagels platters of bagels and assorted shmears (Yiddish for spreads) and pots of delicious, strong coffee. Filling the air were sounds of joyous recognition followed by hugs, introductions, and lively conversations. It felt like a large, extended family gathering. Ticketed events at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum tend to feel that way. This one, titled “What Makes a Meal More Than a Meal,” was hosted by renowned cookbook author, food historian, and journalist Joan Nathan on Sept. 18.

Nathan has always been curious about what people cook in their kitchens, and what the dishes and meals mean to them. Her latest book, “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World,” explores how Jews make traditional meals by substituting ingredients with whatever is grown locally, if needed. One example she gave is substituting chickpeas for fava beans, the original Egyptian ingredient, depending on where these ingredients were available. Nathan noted that, interestingly, fava beans are a staple in some Brazilian dishes; Islanders are now growing them in home gardens, and they can sometimes be found at local markets.

Challah is another example. The author noted the Grey Barn’s story about introducing challah to Island markets ( “Our challah recipe hails from our son Noah’s Bar Mitzvah. In his community project, he baked dozens of loaves and delivered them to members of the local Jewish community. He met with each of them and recorded their stories of the ancient bread and what it meant to them, as a food and a symbol of faith. Recipes have jumped into local bakeries.”

It is a delight to see loaves of the tasty braided bread now available to all of us at the Grey Barn, Julie Vanderhoop’s Orange Peel Bakery, Morning Glory Farm, and other markets, including most recently from the Vineyard Chabad’s Hadassah Alperowitz, who keeps a kosher kitchen. You can order from her on its website,

Nathan opened the conversation up to the audience, and invited Elana Carlson of Fantzye Bagels to come forward; the crowd applauded in appreciation. The business name is a nod to the Yiddish word for fancy — fantazye without the “a.” They thought the Island needed truly great bagels, and she has delivered. Fantzye Bagels are available for preorder from the website ( for pick-up Saturday, Oct. 1, at the West Tisbury Farmers Market.

Fantzye is losing the commercial kitchen space with a rotating deck oven at the end of September, and have no practical alternatives at the moment. They would like to return next season and continue their bagel and catering business if they can find a space suitable for their purposes. My family is placing our order, and hopes to see them again next year.

Little House Cafe owner Brook Katzen was also in the audience. He spoke about adding matzo ball soup to his menu for Passover, and the joy of remembering and explaining to his Brazilian chef that every family has their own way of making matzo balls. Some like them firm, some like them soft. And teaching a baker to make hamantaschen for Purim (a Jewish celebration of survival) called to mind stories about the three-sided filled pocket pastries representing a historical enemy’s three-sided hat.

Making traditional meals — imagine the challenges substituting ingredients Brazilian, Jamaican, Thai, Vietnamese, Columbian, Eastern European, and other families face on Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s to keeping food traditions alive wherever we are, and sharing meals and stories with friends as well as family. And imagine the joy felt when you find a beloved, traditional family dish added to the menu of a local restaurant.