Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 16 • August 19-25, 2010
now in our 40th season

Romantic Beginnings

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

I have been having a very rocky love affair for about ten years now.  She is much older than I am, but that has been part of the attraction and appeal for me.  She is enchanting, and I am completely fascinated by her.  I am not the only one under her spell; she has haunted many with her beauty, and charm.  She is Nantucket Island, and New England, and SHE is a very captivating. 

The romance of Nantucket can be felt on the beaches, and the cobblestone (or ballast stone) streets.  The chronicles are filled with stories of the most modest beginnings, difficult struggles and often, very exciting endings.  Like true love, the history has its ups and downs.  One can actually view, first hand, places, and accounts from the past, that helped shape how we live today.  The whaling and fishing history in particular, is one of the most intriguing for me.   The community that was formed here during that time had a lot of influence creating the Nation we have become.  One reason I believe people make the journey here, is for the ongoing diversity within a concrete historic foundation.  Sure there are beaches, shopping and great food, but the historical narratives and buildings really continue to make Nantucket a unique destination.  The history in Nantucket is still tangible. 

I have been so enthralled with local history lately that I have been reading a lot of old books; most of them recipe books. So as an ode to our history, all of the recipes included in this article are old, none younger than one hundred years old, and most are even older. 

The two following are recipes from one of my favorite old cookbooks.   It is The Compendium of Cookery and Reliable Recipes, containing  the entire rules for cookery and confectionery together with the book of knowledge, or 1,000 ways of getting rich- prepared by Mrs. E.C. Blakeslee (of Chicago), Miss Emma Leslie (of Philadelphia) , and Dr. S. H. Hughes (chemist of Boston)  published in Chicago, by The Merchants Specialty Co., Publishers 1890.  I love this book not only because the recipes are thorough and beautiful to read, but also because there are other interesting items included too.  How to make: dynamite, ink, saffron lozenges, and colognes, are among many other intriguing formulas included in this amazing book.  I especially enjoy their recipe for lamb sweetbreads, pig’s cheek, and how to prepare Yarmouth bloaters (red herring), but have not included them since they are full of ingredients that are difficult to obtain today.   This recipe caught my attention since it is very fancy, and something I could picture on a table in the 1800’s.  I envision a Captain’s wife in her finest, serving it to her husband as an elegant welcome dinner.  Romantic indeed! 

Baked Haddock

Choose a nice fish of about six pounds,  which has been trim and scrape nicely, gutting it carefully, fill the vacuum (empty belly)  with a stuffing of (ground) veal, chopped ham, and bread crumbs, sew up with strong thread, and shape the fish round, putting its tail into its mouth, or, if two are required, lay them along the dish reversed – that is tail to head; rub over with plenty of butter, or a batter of eggs and flour, and then sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Let the oven be pretty hot when put in.  In about one hour the fish will be ready.  Serve on the tin or aisset in which they have been baked, placing them on a larger dish for that purpose.  Mussel sauce is a good accompaniment.

There was no recipe for the said mussel sauce in the book, but I noticed in some recipes mussels and oysters were interchangeable, so I am assuming this oyster sauce recipe is the companion to the baked haddock.  I tried this sauce and it is very nice indeed (though I cooked it for less time so as not to ruin the oysters). 

Oyster Sauce

Take a pint of oysters and save out a little of the liquor (juice);  put them with their remaining liquor and some mace and nutmeg into a covered saucepan and simmer them over hot coals for about ten minutes; then drain them (reserving liquid).  Oysters for sauce should be large.  Having prepared in a saucepan some drawn or melted butter (mixed with oyster liquid instead of water), pour into a sauceboat, add the oysters to it and serve it up with boiled poultry or with boiled fresh fish.  Celery, first boiled then chopped is an improvement to the sauce.

It would not be an ode to Nantucket without a chowder recipe.  This one is unique since it is layered, almost more of a casserole, than what we picture today.  I have made some adjustments to the recipe since the original was very unspecific.  

Very Old Fashioned Chowder 

Cut some slices bacon, and fry them out dry, in a large dinner pot or Dutch oven.  Then put a layer of fish (fillets) or clams (shucked), on the pork.  Next add a layer of exceedingly, thinly sliced onions and then thinly sliced potatoes, salt and pepper.  Then fish or clams, onions, and potatoes until all of your materials are used up.  Split some hard biscuits and dip them in water, put them around the sides and over the top layer in the pot.  Put in enough water to barely cover the ingredients, stew until the potatoes are done, (about one half hour).  Add half a pint of milk or a cup of cream and cook for a few minutes more.  Eat!

When did it become a custom to give sweets to ones sweetheart?  It is an age old custom, and the following delicious caramels would be a fine sign of affection to present a beloved.  This recipe was passed down through generations of the Chisholm family of New Hampshire.  Thank you for the recipe Florence Chisholm Wiggin. 

Chisholm’s Chocolate Walnut Caramels

  • 2 cups sugar
  • One and one half cup dark Karo corn syrup
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 cup butter (one and one half sticks)
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • One and one half cup Walnuts
  • 4 squares chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Using a large stainless steel pan, slowly melt sugar, syrup, butter.  Stir and continue to cook until it boils vigorously.  Add evaporated milk very slowly so as to allow the boiling to continue.  Boil to hard ball stage (238-240 degrees).  Remove from the heat, and add chocolate and nuts, beating until the chocolate has melted.  Add vanilla and beat for a few minutes (use your judgment on how long to beat).  The chocolate may be omitted to make vanilla walnut caramels.

Nantucket was always romantic, and will be for long after I am gone, so as with history, shall the future continue on its beautiful path.


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