The 9th Annual Goreyfest & Gala in South Yarmouth. See the whole gallery →Visit www.edwardgoreyhouse.org for information on next year’s event.
There’s a Cape Cod myth that says Labor Day is the end of things. Come September 6, the cottages empty, shops are shuttered, the water turns cold, the weather becomes harsh, tourists leave for good, and Cape Codders withdraw into an off-season of silence.But nothing could be further from the truth. Autumn on Cape Cod means the once traffic-heavy roads open up for a sun-drenched cruise underneath the foliage. Shop doors are mostly wide open; you might even catch an end-of-season sale or two. Dinner and room reservations are much easier to book. And right through September, the water is often warmer than it is in June. Villages from Falmouth to Provincetown—the Islands, too—are buzzing with activity, a full season of events blooming under the changing colors of the leaves. Whatever your interest—a scenic marathon run through Falmouth, an exciting Vineyard competition to catch the biggest fish, or a weekend in Wellfleet dedicated to delicious fresh oysters—there’s plenty of attractions after Labor Day. It’s a familiar refrain to year-rounders, and it’s one worth repeating: Autumn is the best time to visit the Cape and Islands. Read more…
More than 100 years ago, the Green Briar Jam Kitchen began as a tea room. After her mother died, Ida Putnam returned from New York to her family’s home on Discovery Hill Road in Sandwich, portions of which date as far back as 1780. Ida opened the tea room in a renovated woodshed off of the house, relying on word of mouth and a wooden sign at the end of the road to entice travelers on Old Kings Highway (now Route 6A).
The tea room lasted a few summer seasons, but one element quickly outshone the rest of the establishment’s offerings: Ida’s fresh jams and jellies. Once Putnam focused on preserves, her business grew quickly. While she had previously chosen native berries and beach plums picked from her immediate woodland and beach surroundings for the jams and jellies, she soon began purchasing additional fruits and vegetables from a network of family, friends, and neighbors. The smells of warm pears, plums, grapes, crabapples, quince, and tomatoes wafted through the air around the kitchen and changed with the seasons.
My grandmother, Mae Foster, began working at the jam kitchen in the 1940s. She spent happy days cooking jams, relishes, and preserves alongside good friends like Martha Blake and Mizue Murphy. Mae continues to share stories about those times with her great-great grandchildren today.
When I was six years old, I used to spend entire days working with my grandmother in the Green Briar kitchen. I used to help stir the humongous pots full of blueberries, with a ladle longer than my arms. I also ate a good number of those blueberries! When the jars were filled and carefully wiped of sticky drips, I would climb a step-stool and stare into early “sun-cookers”—the kitchen began utilizing wide, glass-covered shelves for solar cooking in 1920—to see if I could watch fruit transform before my eyes. It didn’t, but I always seemed to try again the next day.
The grounds outside are just as I remember. In 1980, the Thornton W. Burgess Society assumed management of the Green Briar Jam Kitchen and the surrounding woodlands where Burgess found inspiration for his popular animal adventure stories featuring Peter Rabbit and friends. The nature center’s focus is a great complement to the jam kitchen as a “living museum.”
On a visit to Green Briar in August, this special place looks very much the same, with many of the same contented workers turning out delicious jams and jellies. The day I stopped in, Mizue Murphy was stirring those same pots on the same row of stove tops and she and her colleagues diced up peaches by hand at the window stools. The kitchen crew use the same recipes, cooked in traditional ways, obeying the cadence of the seasons to determine what to preserve next. “It’s such a pleasant place,” says Mizue, who has spent more than 30 years on the job. “People can visit any time of day, and they can’t help but relax while they’re here.” Doreen Brackett of East Sandwich, who has been with Green Briar for three years, says that the strenuous work is satisfying. “It’s actually quite hard work doing everything by hand,” Brackett says, “but when you look at the beautiful view and feel the serenity of stepping back in time, you just can’t beat it.”
Today, a beautiful new outbuilding houses the Thornton Burgess Museum’s Animal Room where kids can come explore and interact with nature. There are weekly activities for children and families, classes like “Froggy Frolic,” “Off the Trail with Map & Compass,” wild nature crafts, and, of course, a variety of jam workshops in the kitchen. I recall many museum explorations from my own childhood. We spent many happy hours searching for famous Burgess characters like Grandfather Frog and Jerry Muskrat.
Green Briar also hosts seasonal festivals for the public. On October 2, the annual Cape Cod Cranberry Day will be held. The festival brings together local volunteers, who help cook chowder and chili as well as warm cranberry crisps for all to try using Green Briar recipes. In the Jam Kitchen there are many seasonal cooking demonstrations, offering a great inside look at the traditions that have made this little place so special for generations.
The Thornton Burgess Society’s Green Briar Jam Kitchen has deep roots in Cape Cod’s history. Interested in some Jam Kitchen fun facts?
• The society has at least 10 antique cherry pitters
in its collection.
• It takes 30 days for melon rind pickles to ripen.
• Each year, the museum’s kitchen staff fills more
than 27,000 jars.
• Strawberry jam is the number-one seller.
• Favorite Jam Kitchen job: Sampling the products!
• Least favorite Jam Kitchen job: De-stemming
• A horseshoe hung by the Jam Kitchen’s founder,
Ida Putnam, still dangles over the Jam Kitchen door.
• Sugar for the jams and jellies is stored in
a 300-pound barrel.
Cranberry Apple Jam
(Yields four to six eight-ounce jars)
6 cups whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3 cups apples
4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Pick through cranberries to remove stems and debris. Wash cranberries. Peel and chop apples into small chunks. Add sugar and lemon juice. Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to a rolling boil. Cook until thickened and pour into sterilized jars.
For more information, visit the website of the Thornton W. Burgess Society at www.thorntonburgess.org.
A century ago, the Model T, the Wright brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk, and Marconi’s transatlantic transmissions all marked the arrival of an era enamored with technology and invention. But the nation’s youngest generation was hearing a different sort of message—one delivered during its bedtime stories. A fledgling Cape Cod naturalist was imparting gentle lessons on the beauty of the outdoors and respect for its creatures through his first children’s volume, Old Mother West Wind.
A century before the term “going green” came into fashion, author Thornton Waldo Burgess awakened a respect for the natural world with light-hearted tales derived from his youth in his native Sandwich. Even on the 100th anniversary of the publication of his first book, his words continue to resonate. “Burgess’ storybook animals interacted in their habitat naturally,” says Nancy Titcomb, a founding member of the Thornton Burgess Society. “Those realistic messages about wildlife stay with you. To this day, every blue jay I see is Sammy Jay.”
Burgess, who lived from 1874 to 1965, first became a professional storyteller to keep in touch with his young son. A widower and single father who freelanced advertising slogans and news tidbits, he mailed his young son original nursery stories while away with his grandmother. When a struggling magazine (named Good Housekeeping!) printed several of the endearing tales, publishing house Little, Brown and Co. asked Burgess to collect them into a book. “I sent them the stories—fourteen of them,” said Burgess in his autobiography. “Within a week the unbelievable had happened—I [was] a bona fide author.” Burgess pocketed $210 and his woodland characters made their 1910 debut in Old Mother West Wind. There was Jimmy Skunk, wearing a permanent white stripe of shame for stealing grouse eggs; Spotty Turtle, winning a race by secretly hitching a ride on Reddy Fox’s tail; Johnny Chuck, hiding in his underground house from gun-toting Farmer Brown; and children’s favorite mischief-maker, Peter Rabbit. (Burgess’ son already knew Beatrix Potter’s British Peter Rabbit, so “there was no changing the name.”) A typical tale in the book unfolded like this:
“I’ve just come across the Green Meadows,” said Old Mother West Wind, “and there I saw the Best Thing in the World.”
“The Best Thing in the World,” said Peter Rabbit. “Why, that must be great piles of carrots and cabbage! I’ll go and find it.”
Other animals voice similar sentiments, rushing to be the first to find “the best thing.” Finally Johnny Chuck speaks up: “The Best Thing in the World,” said Johnny Chuck. “Why, I don’t know of anything better than my own little home and the warm sunshine and the beautiful blue sky.”
The success of the book led to two sequels as well as a variety of writerly endeavors that came to define Burgess’s legacy: a daily “Bedtime Stories” column for the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate that lasted for 36 years; a weekly Neighbor Burgess radio show airing nationally from 1924-1934; and an astonishing output of 170 books and 15,000 stories. Even Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt followed Peter Rabbit’s adventures devotedly.
As a decorated conservationist, Burgess rallied thousands across the nation through his Radio Nature League and Green Meadow Club to rescue trees from tent-caterpillar infestation, preserve millions of acres as bird sanctuaries, and nurture programs to protect endangered wildlife. While holding in his hand the final known member of the heath-hen species on Martha’s Vineyard, he allowed a glimpse into his naturalist’s heart: “It was sheer, stark tragedy watching that lone bird displaying all his charms, calling for a mate … while I knew that nowhere in the world was there one for him… Man the destroyer had once again overcome Nature the creator,” Burgess wrote in his autobiograpy.
The gentle ecologist’s profound love for all things wild can be traced to his bucolic native town of Sandwich, where he was descended from one of the original settlers. He and his mother lived in 10 different houses throughout the town, and in 1891 he was part of a nine-person graduating class at Sandwich High School. After moving off-Cape some years later, he returned often, craving “the flash of sun on distant dunes and the whistling of shore birds … a blessed relief from the turmoil of the outer world.” It is a jarring fact that as a boy Burgess liked to hunt and trap, collecting the town’s irresistible 25-cent bounty for muskrat “tails and noses.” But his eccentric aunt, Arabella Eldred Burgess, offered a counter influence. She lived in the 1756 Deacon Eldred house by Shawme Pond and communed regularly with the woodland animals, often welcoming them into her home. Arabella was reputed to summon fish by patting the water and calling to them. When Burgess, by his own description, “put away the gun for camera and typewriter,” Arabella’s creatures figured large, as did locales in Sandwich that inspired his Old Briar Patch and Smiling Pool, which have now been preserved as conservation land.
It is only fitting that following the environmentalist’s death, Aunt Arabella’s cozy dwelling came to house the Thornton W. Burgess Museum. “The town owned the vacant house and was about to demolish it for a parking lot!” says Titcomb. “The Sandwich Women’s Club worked to refurbish it and facilitate its rental to the newly founded Thornton Burgess Society.”
Today, the sun-dappled parlor of the museum still evokes a 19th-century mood as it displays early editions of Burgess volumes, drawings by his illustrator Harrison Cady, and animal toys depicting his characters. The Burgess Society, which also operates the Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, is commemorating the centennial of Old Mother West Wind with a smorgasbord of activities honoring Burgess’ legacy (see sidebar). “He still inspires children to learn and care,” says Education Director Mary Beers. “Peter Cottontail is by far the most popular character. We always have a real live Peter here. Children are in awe when they meet the current one.”
Although newer storybook animals have emerged to help put little ones to sleep at twilight, Burgess’s “friendly neighbors in fur and feathers”—as he affectionately called them—have held their ground. Beers says she has received questions about Burgess from teachers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada. “His writings are not relegated to the stuff of great-grandparent memories, but read by young readers today just as enthusiastically as they were 100 years ago.”
Celebrating Old Mother West Wind at 100 The Thornton W. Burgess Society marks the 100th anniversary of Old Mother West Wind with a full schedule of activities. “In his day, Burgess was one of the most popular people in the country,” says Burgess Society Executive Director Gene Schott. “This year we celebrate the book that launched his career with a wonderful variety of centennial activities:” Visit www.thorntonburgess.org for additional information. Through October: Exhibit on the Life and Times of Thornton Burgess
10-4 (closed Sun.)Thornton Burgess Museum,
4 Water St. (Rte. 130), Sandwich. $2. August-October: The Many Faces of Peter Cottontail (Exhibit)
10-4 (1-4 Sun.); Green Briar Nature Center,
6 Discovery Hill Rd., E. Sandwich
Portraits of Peter by Burgess’ illustrators. $2. Aug. 11: Peter Rabbit’s Animal Day
10 to 2; Thornton Burgess Museum
Live animals, story times, hands-on activities,
and a costumed Peter. Free. Aug. 28: Centennial Gala
Call for details: 508-888-6870 Sept. 11, 12: Bird Carvers Show/Sale
10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center
Demonstrations and sale by 18 local carvers. $5. Oct. 10: My Life As a Crow
6 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center
With Cape crow expert, June Auger. Aug.-Dec., Last Friday of Every Month:
Burgess’s Book Club for Children
4-5:30 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center —the new Putnam Education building
Meet the animal featured in the day’s story. Ages 6-12. $2 per month (for snack). Burgess Museum “Cup Plates” Display: Burgess characters appear on these colorful collectibles, patterned after small glass plates used as saucers in colonial times. Crafted by Pairpoint Glassworks, Sagamore. Sold in museum shop at current valuations: $15-$175.
Julie Olsen’s hair flutters in the wind as she drives a huge John Deere 5520 tractor. As farm manager at The FARM Institute on Martha’s Vineyard, Olsen is still pursuing a passion for agriculture that she has nurtured since growing up on the Cape in Dennis. After graduating from Sterling College in 2007 with a degree in sustainable agriculture and then traveling around the world to find her dream farm, she found herself working as a farm hand at The FARM Institute in 2008. “The executive director would ask me to do these super-human things,” she recalls joyfully. Apparently, her boss thought her strength was on par with that of the much-larger lead farm hand, and once asked her to “reorganize” a collection of cut telephone poles. She stuck it out and moved up to farm manager last fall. “When I first came here, it just didn’t feel like work,” Olsen says. “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”
Down a winding dirt road in the island community of Katama, past tourists sporting brand new Martha’s Vineyard sweatshirts and gripping melting ice cream cones, The FARM Institute sits on 162 acres of emerald pastures speckled with Belted Galloways, the FARM’s signature cattle. Surrounded by the lively animals as well as bountiful vegetable and herb gardens, and farm workers tending to daily tasks, students of all ages pull carrots out of the ground for the first time, watch cows give birth, and learn about preserving the Vineyard’s natural resources. It’s a working and teaching farm that provides an atmosphere of total immersion, instilling a new generation with a love of the land like the one that took hold of Olsen in her childhood. The hope is that in the coming years, the FARM Institute could be a prototype for agricultural education throughout the country.
The FARM Institute’s origins can be traced to a 1999 chance encounter at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market. Vineyard resident Sam Feldman struck up a conversation with agriculturist and teacher Glenn Hearn about his dream of starting an educational island farm. Hearn shared similar conversations with islanders Mike Kidder and John Curelli, and brought all the parties together. Though they were “just four guys without any expertise,” Feldman says, “we just hit it off. We all had a common dream about establishing a farm school.”
A year later, the seeds of the FARM—which stands for Food, Agriculture and Resource Management—were sown with the intention of extending the island’s agricultural legacy. “Through this working farm and through teaching children in the community about sustainable agriculture, we are trying to educate and empower the future leaders of our community,” says former executive director Matthew Goldfarb. Every educational program offered at the FARM teaches the elements of sustainable farming, creating emotional and lifetime connections between children, the land, and its resources.
A key element of the institute’s sustainable agriculture program is its method of grass-based farming. From April to December, the FARM’s cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens eat around 75 percent of the grass in a pasture before being rotated to a fresh one, ensuring the grass is evenly used and will come back bountifully the following year. The FARM also cultivates hay every June or July to sustain the animals during winter months. The same principle is applied to crops, and the corn, eggplant, kale, squashes, and other vegetables are rotated every season to maintain the soil’s exceptional health. The FARM grows this wide variety of produce thanks to the abundance of “Katama loam”—soil that is extremely fertile as a result of glacial silt deposits from the island’s formation thousands of years ago. All of the crops are organically grown, without pesticides or chemicals.
On most summer days, the FARM sees around 100 students learning the secrets of sustainable farming. While children as young as two participate in the Wee Farmers program, older children can sign up for all-day programs that revolve around Concepts of the Week, a set of changing, farm-wide educational themes that range from land preservation to the culture and history of Vineyard farming. The institute also offers several classes for more seasoned agriculturists, with topics like composting, alternative energy, and even beer brewing.
FARM students are involved with the island’s community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which directly links farmers with consumers and reduces goods brought in from off-island sources. “For the FARM Institute, the purchase of our food helps to brand us as both an educational facility and a working farm that grows food for our community,” says Development Assistant Cathy Verost. In addition to selling shares of the FARM’s produce, the Institute recently established a meat CSA program, which provides cuts of FARM-raised beef, chicken, turkey, pork, and lamb.
Julie Olsen, a self-described “conscious omnivore,” who prefers to eat meat raised by herself or a friend, proposed and established the new CSA after learning about a similar venture in Hardwick, Mass., at an organic farming conference in 2009. The community’s positive response has been staggering, even off the island: The FARM had to double the number of CSA shares offered to Falmouth residents, and 27 people are still on the waiting list.
In the future, Olsen would like the FARM to be completely self-sustaining. Education, however, remains the FARM’s highest priority: When students learn about the benefits of practicing local and sustainable agriculture, they take those lessons to heart. Awareness—just like kale or squash—is the product of a hard day’s work.