Bounty Hunting

The gentle release forward into the glistening sound, the horn announcing our departure, the shift of breeze as we escape the shelter of the harbor all signal it is time to open the box cradled like a baby in my ten year old son’s lap. We are on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and that can mean only one thing: time to eat the cannoli. Of course, these are not just any cannoli. These are the anointed ones raised to near-sacramental level, not only by their exquisite taste and texture but by years of inextricable association with the summer journey to our beloved island.Mv Boat

We pass the box around, bonded by the communal act of eating. And simultaneously, we are lost in the deeply private revelry of the perfect cannoli examined by the expectant mouth, the gentle crunch as the crisp shell collapses, the melting creaminess of the ricotta filling, and the finish of bittersweet chocolate on the tongue. We are off to a good start.

I suspect that most families who make a habit of a Vineyard summer have their own special rituals that mark their place on the island, that fill their imaginations when they are far away in a long winter. For some, it may be sailing or long beach walks at sunrise or the croquet matches before dinner or the road race in Chilmark. But for our family, the rituals of island food sit on the front burner to fuel and structure the energies of the day as if following a timeworn favorite family recipe for bliss.

Each year, we add to the formula with new discoveries. A family mythology has grown up around these rituals, so that a thousand miles and months away from summer, we tell the stories of discovering the first apple fritter as if it were the apple in the Garden of Eden. We recount how our unsuspecting son, riding through Oak Bluffs late one night with his sister, smelled the fritters and ordered her to stop the car. He jumped out, disappearing into a frenzied run up and down the darkened alleys of the town until he found the source of the siren-like scent. at Back Door Donuts. And our lives were never the same after that.

Those who visit us are immediately drawn into the activity, or perhaps they are a self-selecting lot. They bring their own idiosyncrasies and, yes, obsessions and even special tools. I now own an enormous authentic New Braunfels, Texas smoker given by our old friend Jed Dietz and his wife Julia McMillan as a house warming gift. When fired up to grill or smoke fish or tomatoes or chicken, the smoker once inspired my nearest neighbors to call the fire department and then invite themselves for dinner. Now Jed has begun lobbying for an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. Hmm.

I am about to share our favorite family recipe, and I have just a moment’s pause as I circle this page, feeling a little exposed and protective as if someone has just asked for my firstborn or the secret ingredient in my seafood risotto. Maybe I’m afraid that the long lines at our favorite fried clam place will get even longer. But my mother taught me to share. So whether you have already discovered these treasures on your own or by reading about them today, it is the bounty of the island and the ripeness of summer that we can be grateful for, all ties that bind our family and friends in a web of pleasure and delight.

Recipe for a

Perfect Martha’s Vineyard Vacation

Get off the plane in Boston, drive, hitchhike, walk, or take a train directly to Bova’s Bakery in the North End (calling in advance if you are pressed to make a ferry). Pick up three assorted grinders, a calzone, and two dozen small cannoli—half plain and half with chocolate. On a lucky day, you will also find a parking spot and an elderly Italian woman, dressed in black and fanning herself, selling lemonade outside. Using hand gestures and guttural expressions, place an order for her eggplant parmesan, which she will retrieve from her apartment down the street. Be patient.

Head for the ferry and eat the grinders and eggplant on the way.

Eat the first flight of cannoli on the ferry deck. Someone should say, “It doesn’t get better than this” as a blessing.

Arrive at home on the island. Put cannoli in the fridge. Head immediately to Chilmark Chocolates. Eat only one sample while standing in line. No kidding. Each person should buy their own box so they are assured of always having their own favorites. Label boxes clearly with name and warnings of death or dismemberment for tampering. The amount to purchase is determined by the day of the week. If you arrive on Sunday, remember that Chilmark Chocolates will not be open again until Thursday. Planning ahead is very important here. If you have guests arriving on a CCCD (Chilmark Chocolate Closed Day), it would be most gracious of you to buy them a little something in advance to hold them over until Thursday.

Count days until the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market. This will determine your remaining pie options for the day. Alternate options include wild blueberry pie from the back door of the Homeport, lemon chess from Eileen Blake on State Road (though these really need to be served with the organic island blueberries sold by the woman in the truck on the end of the market line—it’s your call), mixed berry pie from Black Dog, or almost anything you are in the mood for in a shortbread crust from the Scottish Bakehouse.

Place pie out of reach and sight. I recommend the top of the refrigerator or in someone’s closet.

It’s time for decision-making again. If you haven’t already gone to Menemsha to pick up a pie, go there now. Stop at The Bite and leave one or two trustworthy family members in line. (Hint: The less trustworthy, the more you leave. When it comes to food, this is a necessary precaution.) Equip the team with last week’s paycheck. Head to Larsen’s or the Menemsha Fish Market, order some steamers and/or sushi to eat while selecting the fish for dinner.Fried Clams

Hurry back to The Bite. Park the car if you can. By now, the previously commissioned family members are waiting with untouched cardboard containers of fried clams. Tear open bags and containers and spread hot crispy clams on the bags on the hood of your car. This innovation, (patent applied for) discovered by my daughter and family foodie friend Jonathan Shils on their third consecutive daily trip to The Bite, solves the problem of the clams on the bottom steaming the upper clams and making all of them soggy. Sometimes gluttony has its own reward.

Eat clams. Weeping would also be appropriate at this moment. Drive home. Put fish in the refrigerator. Head to the beach. Grill fish for dinner and serve with “butter and sugar” corn from Morning Glory FarmMorning Glory Farm and Taber Farms organic greens. Serve pie or pies of choice.

Unpack, play cards, or read until 11 p.m. Pile into station wagon and head to Oak Bluffs. Follow the scent of fried dough and cinnamon until group gathers at “Back Door Donuts” behind the Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe and Bakery. Discuss clam orgy and lobster rolls while waiting in line. Buy hot apple fritters for immediate consumption, and take some home. Watch out for deer on the drive back.

Sleep well, knowing there will be some fritters and pie left over for breakfast.

Count days until the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market. If this is Saturday or Wednesday (aka a lucky day), rise before 8:30, gather up your market baskets and string bags and a fistful of cash. Take everyone with you. Park in the muddy field behind the old Grange Hall and poise yourself at the entry to the market. Make casual conversation. Don’t make eye contact. Plan your strategy. The goal here is to scope out the freshest of the moment museum-quality vegetables and buy them before they are all gone. This requires a form of zen-like focus, first to discern the call of the perfect tomato and then to honor its presence in your life without being too grabby.W.Tisbury Grange Hall

Divide the troops, sending trustworthy individuals or groups to stand in line for Vietnamese cold rolls, coffee, and scones, and to select a pies, scones, biscotti. Others will handle the corn, Russian fingerling potatoes, organic arugula, clipping the micro-greens, and flowers. When fully laden, fill up on the sights and sounds, the babies dressed in white pique and terminally cute caps, the puppies, and the occasional celebrity holding court.

Head home, unload the bounty, and go to the beach. Obsess about whether you are going to roast the Russian fingerling potatoes with rosemary and oil or make into world-class potato salad with homemade mayonnaise and fresh basil. Life is full of difficult decisions, but someone has to make them. Send someone for pizza at the Chilmark store for lunch or anything from the Scottish Bakehouse.

If you have waited a reasonably restrained amount of time (at least 24 hours), declare it “lobster night” and head to Menemsha again for lobsters. On the way home, stop in for island-grown natural lamb and lamb sausage at the Allen Farm for another night.

Eat lobster, play cards, watch for shooting stars, or read until 11 p.m. Send trustworthy teenagers to Oak Bluffs…Go to bed, listen to the ocean and the frogs and the owls, and sleep well, knowing there are pie and fritters for breakfast.

Continue above steps in any combination for the remaining vacation.

Departure day. Rise early and remember to retrieve travel boxes of Chilmark Chocolate from fridge. Drive to ferry. Drop off family members at the Black Dog to pick up coffee, blueberry streusel coffee cake, and muffins to eat in car while waiting to board ferry. Wave goodbye to the island with the deep satisfaction of knowing you haven’t missed a moment or bite of pleasure.


Disclaimer: By no means is this an all-inclusive list of island culinary treasures. If your favorite establishment has been excluded from mention, take heart. The lines will be shorter.






  1.  Courtenay's avatar
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    This is wonderfully written and so evocative of island summers--it reminds me of our own langorous visits to Nantucket and the rituals--the Cliff walk, ice cream cruises on the Anna II, afternoons at Quidnet, buying tomatoes at Bartlett's Farm, the boat-shaped lemonade stand our children had--that made it so idyllic. Lovely!

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