Autumn on Martha’s Vineyard Image

Flying squadrons of Canada geese head south in formation. The water in the harbor turns a deep ultramarine. Tivoli Day has come and gone and the farmers markets are winding down. It’s fall on Martha’s Vineyard. To most island visitors, prime time on the Vineyard is July or August, but for those with a bit more time and insider knowledge, the delights of autumn on the Vineyard are unmatched. Then, it’s possible to get parking spaces on Main Street or Circuit Avenue; the air is crystalline and brisk, and on days when the temperatures hit summer warmth, a quick dip in the summer-warmed water is not unheard of. The islanders all breathe a sigh of relief from summer’s work. Their home has been returned to them and they revel in it, stopping to greet one another at the post office or while picking up canning equipment at Phillip’s or Shirley’s hardware stores.

The Vineyard Gazette begins to talk about scallop season and the senior citizens centers around the island give out free bass and bluefish from the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. The five-week tournament is more than a fishing competition; it is an island-wide event. From on island and off, thousands come to enter the derby and battle the wily piscatorial prey on land and at sea. (In 2005, there were more than 2,800 entrants.) Then, the three Bs: bass, bonito and bluefish are the goal of the island’s hard-core fisher-folk.

Folks trade bluefish pâté recipes and such, but they also make good use of the last of summer’s bounty and throw together a batch of tomato chutney from those final tomatoes. (Although this year the rains kept the crop down.) It’s also time for watermelon rind pickles from the last of the season.  Those bright summery tastes will grace the Thanksgiving table, bringing with them memories of summer and the hope for another. Soon it will be all about pumpkins and cranberries and potluck suppers.

Spicy Smoked Bluefish Spread

Makes about 1½  cups

3 ounces smoked bluefish, flaked and shredded
1 cup whipped cream cheese
2 teaspoons horseradish
1 teaspoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Dash vinegar, or to taste
Dash Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon finely minced jalapeno chiles, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Serve with crackers.

Tomato Chutney

Makes about 4 cups

12 large ripe tomatoes
1 (l ½-inch) piece fresh ginger
2 jalapeno chiles, or to taste
2 1arge onions, quartered
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar

1. Peel and slice the tomatoes. Place them, along with the ginger, chiles, onions, garlic and basil in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are the consistency of a thick liquid.

2. Place liquid in a heavy non-reactive saucepan with the raisins, brown sugar and vinegar and stir well. Place the saucepan on the stove at medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil.

3. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1½ hours, or until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat and pour into scalded half-pint canning jars. The chutney should be served immediately but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Larger batches can be made for canning for those who have bumper crops of tomatoes, but proper canning procedures should be followed and the jars should be processed in a hot-water bath.


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Jessica Harris' cottage and front yard garden in Oak Bluffs. Jessica Harris

Recipes adapted from “The Martha’s Vineyard Table,” by Jessica B. Harris (Chronicle, 2007)

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