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Volume 37 Issue Three, - May 3-16, 2007 now in our 37th season

Preserving History by Preserving Recipies

by Maryjane Mojer

The history of Nantucket is rich and well documented.  Even as a tiny slip of sand 3,000 miles west of Spain (or 26 miles off the Cape, your choice) we have made an impact historically.  Our status as a whaling port is legendary. The architecture all around the island draws enthusiasts and experts from all over to study, sketch, and speculate.

Living here, knowing what I know and learning what I don’t know, I sometimes forget that Nantucket is more than just my home. I guess it must be that way to be married to a celebrity.  Everyone else may see how special and amazing they are, but their spouse may just see the dirty socks and dishes in the sink. After a long, grey winter of not going anywhere, all I could see were dirty socks and dishes.  (Not literally, my husband is very good with both…) 

Last week, my mother in law came down for a visit and brought her cousin and his wife with her.  I somewhat grudgingly put on my tour guide hat, we piled into the minivan, and off we went for the three-hour tour.  I took a deep breath, stopped for coffee at Fast Forward and headed first to Surfside. The ocean was wild; that gorgeous blue-green that it turns when it’s all stirred up.  From there we headed out to ‘Sconset and down to Codfish Park.  I explained what I knew about the small shacks that used to be there, how the fishermen would haul their boats up and stay.  We then headed up to Sankaty, and could see from the bluff a couple of commercial fishing boats way off in the distance.

The socks and dirty dishes began to fade away, and I started to see my home through someone else’s eyes and remember where I live.  When my  husband and I travel, we take back roads.  We love road trips, and find that our time is well-spent going through towns rather than around them.  Great road food is a treat, and talking to people who live where you’re visiting is a treasure.

Because I’m a chef, food is always one of the first things I look for. (OK, even if I weren’t a chef, I would still look for food first.  It’s a genetic disorder.) I also am pretty smitten with local cookbooks and look for them when we travel.  I’m not looking for the glossy, high-end books.  They certainly have their place, and I have my fair share.  Heck, I probably have your fair share, too.  Gorgeous, coffee-table type cookbooks with fabulous recipes from local chefs help you to recreate your experiences and enjoy the tastes of your vacation when you’re home, and they have all those beautiful pictures to preserve the memories. 

There are also some wonderful local cookbooks that are playing a big part in preserving the history of the island.  Some are affiliated with various churches (St. Mary’s and the Congregational Church are two) and others with different associations, such as the Community Network for Children.  The flavors and history of the island go far beyond the wonderful restaurant kitchens and straight into the kitchens of the home cooks.  I’m sure you know the books I mean:  they’re usually smaller than the fancy books and ring-bound. They always have the cook’s name after each recipe and a list of measurements in the back. They’re under $20 and filled with history, great food, and familiar names.  Next time you find yourself flipping through one, try to imagine what prompted the cook to submit that particular recipe.  How many requests must he or she have had for that particular recipe to make them think, “wow…that should be in a cookbook!” How many cookouts and parties was that salad, entrée or dessert served at?

Seems like a good time for a public service announcement:  Sometimes, folks who are learning to cook, or who consider themselves to be great cooks will turn up their noses at certain ingredients, chief among them: cream of mushroom soup, frozen vegetables, ketchup, saltine crackers.  These may not be ingredients you want to use every day, but give them a chance once in a while.  Try the recipes for a special occasion and bring history to your own table.

Here is a piece of my own history I’d like to share:

Madelyne Perry’s Kale Soup

1 daisy butt ham

3 pounds linguica, sliced

2 pounds chourico, sliced

1 bag frozen turnip, diced

1 bag frozen pearl onions

3 bags frozen kale

4 cans shell beans or red kidney beans

1/2 head of green cabbage

Cover the daisy butt with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for an hour.  Remove from water, shred or cut up, and set aside.  Into the stock, place everything else, and add the daisy butt.  Bring to a boil, simmer for an hour. This is better the next day.

Mom and Frank Rebimbas had a running kale soup competition.  Frank always put potatoes in his.  I loved it with potatoes, but didn’t dare tell Mom!  If you love potatoes, go right ahead and add them at the beginning.

Now this is a soup with history.  Mom would make it in huge batches, 10 or 15 gallons at a whack.  She would drop a pot off at the Nantucket Police Station, bring one to the town building, drop one at the fire department, and, depending on the latest editorial, deliver one to the Inquirer and Mirror.

This soup also freezes really well.  Mom had been ill for a few years, when it became clear that her condition was declining.  One cold February day, she said, “Honey, I’d like to make a batch of kale soup.”  Rough translation would be “Honey, I’d like you to make a batch of kale soup while I tell you what to do.”  Following her instructions, I shopped, chopped, and cooked.  I delivered the soup to the designated people, and froze the rest.  When she passed away two months later, we thawed her soup…her last batch…and served it at her wake.  As always, she had had a plan.

May is historic preservation month on the island.  It’s a great time to look at the island from a different perspective, time to celebrate history, make your own, and maybe to look at recipes through someone else’s eyes.
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