Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 18, - Aug. 22 - 29, 2007 now in our 37th season

Growing Up in Our Island World

by Maryjane Mojer

I lead a charmed life.  I was born and raised here and am fiercely proud of my heritage. Marshall Dodge told a story of an elderly man who moved to a town when he was but days old. “Oh, so you’re a native?” queried a visitor. “Nope” replied the man.  “But you moved here when you were only days old, you’ve always lived here, that makes you a native, doesn’t it?” said the visitor.  The elder replied “When your cat crawls into the oven and has kittens, you don’t call ‘em muffins.

There’s a naiveté associated with growing up here.  After all, having spent most of your life on a spit of land 3,000 miles west of Spain, how much could you actually have been exposed to?  When we were growing up, (and you know who you are) how many times were we asked if we had indoor plumbing or if we had to take the boat to the Cape for school?  (And how many people did you tell “No, no indoor plumbing and school...What’s that?”) 

At the risk of sounding like my dad (“we walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow, year ‘round”) everyone in my group of friends started working summers starting at age eleven or twelve. (Child labor laws? We were aching to work…it’s what you did.)  A bank representative would come to the school each year to help kids set up savings accounts.  In the winter, half of us opened scallops after school or worked at the soda fountain in one of the drugstores.  For football or basketball games, we’d take the Nobska, the Uncatena or the Naushon to Woods Hole, bus up, and stay overnight at the houses of the other team. We’d also host teams when they’d come down. Many friendships began this way and still exist 35 years later.

In many ways, we had more experiences than kids in a city.  Every ordinary experience like a sporting event became extraordinary because of our circumstances.  Our island is small, but our scope is broad.  After taking more than a couple of kids to college, I have to say that Nantucket kids are more than well prepared in many ways.  Moving into a dorm and need a tool set to fix your bunk bed?  Find a Nantucket kid.

Nantucket has always had visitors from all over the world.  Growing up, there were certain things that you looked and listened for in the summer; license plates from out of state, and accents.  The accents way back when in the dark, somewhat fuzzy recesses of my memories seemed to be Southern, British, and French.  They were most always a friend of a friend or, for us, the North Carolina branch of the family (the Southern accent, that is).  Maybe it’s a combination of growing awareness coinciding with the influx of Irish kids who came over to work in the late ‘80’s, but accents seemed to become more and more prevalent.  After a time, just like being able to tell if someone from the states is from Minnesota or Texas, I could discern with some success if someone was from Dublin or  Cork (that’s an easy one).  Soon, more and more Brit’s started coming over, and the Welch and Manchester accents become easier to identify (as though anyone could confuse the two!).  With our season beginning well before Memorial Day and lasting long after Labor Day, we became more and more reliant on foreign workers.  Many of them stayed on, making the island their home, bringing other family and friends over and influencing so many aspects of life on the Rock.  So many countries are represented here, and the influence of all of the cultures is amazing.

One of the most telltale signs of the melting pot that Nantucket has become is the offerings at the grocery store.  At one time, there was one kind of salsa, and you had to find it.  Now, there are dozens of brands, flavors, and heats available. Where there once were just a few shelves as the designated “Foreign Food” section, the whole store is an adventure.  Cadbury Flake and Salad Cream are as commonplace as, well, salsa.  Tripe, chicken feet, and oxtails don’t have to be special ordered.

When Finast had its produce outside in the summer, I believe the iceberg lettuce, romaine, tomatoes, potatoes, onions were in the back, the apples and berries in the middle and the watermelon to the far left.  Star fruit and kiwi, so very exotic would make an occasional appearance.  Parsley shared the herb shelf with chives and tarragon (this was, after all, the height of béarnaise).

Now, the produce section is in itself a walk around the world.  Horned melons, blue potatoes, dragon fruit, persimmons, papayas, passion fruit, cherimoya, and tomatillos alongside six different varieties of plums, peaches, and countless apples.

Food is a wonderful way to share your heritage and to get to know people.  In my experience, every person from any culture or country I’ve met is willing to share food and recipes; to learn and to teach.  Never cooked oxtail? Ask.  Know how to make a killer borscht?  Tell.  Food and cooking are great icebreakers and offer a way to share and learn.  By talking about your favorite meals and asking others about theirs, you’re broadening your own kitchen skills, and sharing yourself with others.  We are so very, very fortunate here to have this microcosm of the globe within 47.8 square miles.  Start with your own heritage and share it.  After all, who doesn’t love muffins?

Braised Oxtails

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Vegetable oil
3 lbs oxtails, cut into pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
6 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 can (16 ounces) tomatoes
1/2 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
6 sprigs fresh thyme

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat vegetable oil. Brown oxtail in small batches, setting aside till done.  Add onion and carrots to pot, stir to coat with drippings.  Add potatoes, stir to coat, add tomatoes, stock, seasonings and herbs.  Tuck in oxtails.  Cover, place in oven for 2 hours.  Serve with peas & rice.

Peas and Rice

1 medium sized can red kidney beans
1 cup coconut milk
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups of rice
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon oil

Heat oil in heavy bottomed pan with tight fitting lid.  Add onion, sauté till transluscent.  Add rice and thyme and beans.  Stir to coat.  Add coconut milk and water.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until rice is done.

Editor’s Note:  Two weeks ago, there was a misprint in one of MaryJane Mojer’s recipes.  We received so many calls and emails asking to clarify it that we’re running it again.  Here is the correct recipe for...

Kitchen Sink Cookies

350 degrees, 12 to 14 minutes

half-pound (two sticks) of softened butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips or peanut butter chips
1 cup coconut
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup currants or cranberries (or diced apricots, or dates, or dried blueberries)

Beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add sugars and vanilla, beat till combined.  Add eggs one by one, mix till combined. 

Combine all of the dry ingredients and add to the butter, sugar mix.  Mix well but only to combine all ingredients.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet.  Bake until just barely browned.

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