Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 41 Issue 10 • July 14-20, 2011
now in our 41th season


by Jenn Farmer - Chef and Food Fancier

The full forces of summer have returned.  It is difficult to get away from the dizzying numbers of people on the street and at the beach.  Many visitors to Nantucket have no idea what it is like here even after arrival. Many ask me questions about the population, the size of the island, if there is a school, or a hospital here.  If you are one of those visitors, I am NOT making fun of you.  In fact I think with all the technology today, not knowing where you are going is a little exciting.  It takes guts (and some cash) to travel somewhere you know little or nothing about.  I did it when I first came to Nantucket too.

I was working in Reno, Nevada at the time.  Another cook I knew was headed out to Nantucket for the summer.  He had been there once before, and told me of the decent pay and great food.  In fact he had been introduced to Nantucket under similar circumstances, recruited by a chef who was headed here for the summer and needed some more staff. His spiel was so good, not only did I come to our fair island, but so did several other cooks from the same restaurant.  We really infuriated the chef at the restaurant in Reno, since several of his best staff members left.  The story has a relatively happy ending though, he ended up coming to Nantucket a few years later, and he is also still here today. 

When I got off the plane in Boston, I had no Idea where to go. I grabbed my rucksack full of clothes, and looked for the bus.  I had to wait for a while, and was getting a bit nervous. Two days earlier, I had called my friend (who was already in Nantucket) to let him know I would be there. He simply told me to take the bus to Hyannis, then the ferry to the Nantucket. That was it.  Not only was I traveling with very limited cash, but the only things I knew about Nantucket I had gleaned from books like Moby Dick. 

When I got to Hyannis, I managed to get a ticket on the slow boat that day.  The weather had delayed it, and it was full, in fact I sat on my bag for the whole journey. The water was rough and a number of passengers got seasick.  I grew up in a place without ocean.  I had heard of rough seas, but had no concept of them.  I had also no idea the ride would be over two hours long.  Today I only remember bits and pieces of that fateful trip, but they are vivid.  The color of the walls seemed to be a peculiar turquoise, because it was reflecting the very dark, green sea.  It was creepy, like some sci-fi thriller where all the players are doomed.  Upon arrival we all disembarked, and I had no clue where to go.  I went to the pay phone at the end of the Steamship Dock.  I called my friend to come get me.  It was windy and huge drops of rain pelted me.  He asked which dock I was at.  I didn’t know.  I told him how long it took us to arrive, and he said he would walk down to fetch me. In the ten minutes it took him to arrive, the sky cleared, the wind dissipated and the sun shone brightly, drying me and my bag.

I remember clearly walking toward Straight Wharf restaurant that day.  I remember Tony, the first person I was introduced to on the island.  We were on the street, a few feet from the Gazebo.  We stayed friends with until he moved away a few years back.  It is funny all of us washashores (that is what natives call those of us who end up moving here) remember the first person we met, and many stay friends with them. I had twenty dollars left in my pocket when I arrived.  I did have a job and a sofa to sleep on and was content.  Oh, to be young and have no real responsibilities again. 

Today things are different for me.  I have a child and bills to pay.  But I still have an adventurous nature.  My son and I explore the island, and find new things to occupy us daily.  One of our favorite places is the Farmer’s Market.  The colors and diversity catch our attention.  We regularly come home with fresh herbs to plant, or beautiful local vegetables to cook.  The following recipe reminds me of the time I spent at Straight Wharf, and incorporates the best local produce. 

I love the island tomatoes and corn the most, and they taste fabulous together.  I came up with cornmeal madelines one day when I felt whimsical and wanted to incorporate the cornbread from my youth with the lighter island cusine.  They go so well with tomato salad. 

Cornmeal Madelines

  • One and one half cup cornmeal
  • One half cup all purpose flour
  • One and a half teaspoons kosher salt
  • One teaspoon baking soda
  • Two teaspoon baking powder
  • One third cup sugar
  • Two eggs
  • Two cups buttermilk
  • Two tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Carefully spray or butter and flour the madeline tins.  Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, with the sugar.  In a separate bowl mix the buttermilk, eggs, and butter together, them combine all the wet and dry ingredients together.  Fill each madeline mold about three quarters full and bake for up to seven to ten minutes.  I like to add some fresh corn kernels to the mix when sweet corn is in season, for a delightful little pop of sweetness.  Enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato Salad

  • 3 cups heirloom tomatoes, large diced (if using cherry or grape tomatoes, slice in half)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 cups micro greens or finely shredded greens of your choice (I like arugula)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • Fresh black pepper
  • Kosher salt or Nantucket Sea Salt

In a large bowl combine the greens and tomatoes.  In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients for a dressing, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the dressing over salad and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate unless you eat it immediately.  Serves 6.

  One of my favorite flavors with the local produce is of course fresh seafood.  Although Nantucket Bay scallops are not in season right now, you can get lovely sea scallops.  I like them grilled, but they can be pan-seared just as easily.

Grilled Sea Scallops

  • Sea Scallops
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot grill

Brush the scallops with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill over hot coals for a minute or two until it is easily separated from the grill grates.  Turn over and cook for another minute.  Enjoy with fresh tomato salad and madelines.


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