‘Martha’s Vineyard Flavors’

Museum brings cultures and eras together for a comprehensive food history symposium.


Food crosses cultures and times. We eat it, think about it, cook it, celebrate with it, and some of us grow it. Food is also central to the Island, and accordingly, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is convening “Martha’s Vineyard Flavors: A Food History Symposium,” from June 2 through 4, to look at the roots and branches of Martha’s Vineyard food, from the harvests of the first Islanders to the contemporary farm-to-table scene. Bonnie Stacy, chief curator, says, “It was natural, since there are so many people on the Vineyard, or connected to us, who know so much about the topic.” To help with the project, Stacy reached out to Michelle Moon, principal of Saltworks Interpretive Consulting, who has an extensive background in food history and interpreting it with museums.

Moon says, “I think Martha’s Vineyard has a lot to teach the world about maintaining a healthy food culture by looking through history. It’s a finite piece of land, and there have been people stewarding it for thousands of years. The pressures of the recent century have really turned up the volume on some of the issues around food and sustainability. But there is so much creative work going on right now that has deep roots in the Island’s agricultural, fishing, and land stewardship history that I think are really vital lessons for today.”

The symposium opens Friday evening with a keynote by Dr. Jessica Harris, a longtime seasonal resident, and a scholar of the foodways of the African diaspora, with a Netflix series and cookbook called “High on the Hog.” She will share her experience of going out into the Island community to collect stories and recipes for her cookbook “The Martha’s Vineyard Table.” Having whetted our appetite, there will be an outdoor reception with a menu curated from some of Harris’ recipes, inspired by the Oak Bluffs “five to seven” tradition in the African American community of gathering on the porch or yard after the beach for some nibbles and a glass of wine.

Saturday starts with the original stewards of the Vineyard in “First Foods: Preserving and Celebrating Indigenous Foodways.” Anna Barber, curator of exhibitions, will moderate a discussion with Juli Vanderhoop, Linda Coombs, Kristina Hook, all from the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, and Alexis Moreis from the Wampanoag Tribe of Chappaquiddick about their heritage and history of the land here, and how they are working to maintain traditional practices and teach them to young people.

We then progress to the colonial era with “Saltwater Farms and Colonial Cooks: A Conversation with Sandy Oliver and Bonnie Stacy,” known for her book “Saltwater Foodways.” Stacy will interview Oliver about what her intensive research and recreations reveal about the origins of iconic New England food traditions.

“The World on Our Plates: Local Food, Global Influences” will feature moderator Marnely Murray and a roundtable of chefs, home cooks, and culinary tradition keepers: Carleen Cordwell, Deon Thomas, Janet Massineo, Ginny Coutinho, and Angela Brown will examine the unique stories of multiple cultural foodways that have found their way to the Island, and are now an important part of our culinary scene.

Host of the podcast “The Sporkful,” Dan Pashman will lead the search to identify some of the distinctive ingredients, connections, trends, and traditions that make Vineyard eating an experience all its own. Hugh and Jeanne Taylor, Rebecca Miller, Austin Racine, and cookbook author and newspaper journalist Joan Nathan will examine what is truly unique about the Island in “Is There Such a Thing as Martha’s Vineyard Cuisine?”

Moon says on Sunday, “Having previously digested all this historical trajectory, we will be looking forward to how to keep that history alive.” The day begins with breakfast with the “Lunch Lady,” during which Jenny DeVivo, chef, culinary educator, and food security advocate, will speak about her nationally recognized inspiring work transforming Island school cafeterias using Island produce in creative ways.

Next up is “Sustaining the Feast: Where Does Island Food History Go from Here?” which will be moderated by Tina Miller, editor of Edible Vineyard magazine, with panelists Julie Scott, Slough Farm; Noli Taylor, Island Grown Initiative; Shelley Edmundson, Fishermen’s Preservation Trust; and Jennifer Randolph, Kinship Heals. People will hear from the leading local food activists and advocates to learn how the Island’s history of resilience lives on in the present day. Panelists will share about their many efforts to build an Island food system that offers good, accessible, affordable, culturally relevant, and sustainable food, and about the many ways to get involved.

The event concludes, literally, with a look at the future, as IGI presents how their youth programs are bringing children into agriculture, gardening, and cooking, along with a video of students sharing their vision of what they think the future of the Vineyard should be.

In between all the goings-on, there will be demonstrations and tastings from experts and Island food purveyors, and everyone will get a hands-on opportunity to participate in one workshop. “I Only Have Pies for You” explores 19th century scrimshawed pastry and baking tools such as whale ivory and inlaid crimpers, and rolling pins that sailors brought back from their voyages, as well as teaching some showoff pastry techniques and tips.

“Stay Awhile” will look at the Island tradition of hospitality, ranging from Wampanoag welcome gatherings to 19th century grand hotels. Participants will explore today’s informal hospitality of potlucks and porch suppers with Nancy Cole, and create their own simple snack board with Elle Simone Scott, author of “Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings.”

During “In Cod We Trust” you can watch a demonstration of cod processing using salt preservation, learn how to make a Yankee-style cod cake, and explore other uses of this 500-year-old global commodity food that has been a staple ingredient on Martha’s Vineyard across time and culture.

Moon reflects, “This could not be happening anywhere else in the country. The Island has this rich depth of both the famous names as well as people who are deeply embedded in the community who are carrying traditions from their families and histories that are so rich and special. Bringing that all together is going to be an incredible convening.”

For more information, see mvmuseum.org/mv-flavors, or call 508-627-4441. 



  1. Looking through the wonderful pictures, the Open Door club looks like a scene from Aunt Emma Maitland’s house.

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