May your 2011 be filled with all the good things in life!
Cape Cod has more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations. Add to that number the nonprofit groups located on the islands and just over the bridges, and you have an enormous cadre of workers – many of them volunteers – who are filling gaps in critical areas that include affordable housing, the environment, hunger, and healthcare. Below are seven of these groups, a small sampling but enough to demonstrate the great work that local nonprofits are accomplishing. Now, at the threshold of the holiday season, is a perfect time to show your support for these charities and your other favorite causes. Read more…
Cape Cod and the Islands are bountiful sources for holiday decorating with lots of natural materials right outside your back door. Let’s start with holly, which grows in such abundance on Cape Cod that we often rip it out like a weed. This is still slightly amazing to me, since we used to pamper, fertilize, and pray over our hard-to-please holly bushes when we lived in Central Massachusetts. The Cape is what’s known as a holly belt and the prickly native holly, Ilex opaca, flourishes here. I was astonished our first Cape Christmas at the sight of a giant holly tree completely covered with brilliant red berries. It looked as though a child had taken a red crayon and dotted the deep green foliage with thousands of berries. Read more…
September and October are two of my favorite months of the year on Cape Cod. There is a certain slant of sunlight then that gilds the ocean and the beaches in this grande finale to summer. The cranberry bogs glow ruby red against skies so blue they don’t look real. Autumn on Cape Cod is like a kaleidoscope, brilliant colors shifting and sliding. It is almost as if nature saves her best show for last to comfort us before winter arrives.
Sometimes I feel like a squirrel gathering acorns, storing up these autumn moments to get me through those November days when it gets dark at 4 p.m. There is a part of me that dreads the coming winter, even though I love Cape winter activities, skating on frozen ponds and brisk walking, especially on winter beaches when the clear light and the sharp wind make you feel lucky to be alive.
Yet, with every passing autumn I discover new joys about Cape life that have nothing to do with sunbathing, parties on the beach, or even flying over Nantucket Sound waves with sails trimmed tight. It used to be that when I thought of Cape cuisine, I thought of clam chowder, lobster, or anything made with cranberries. One of the great joys about living here year-round is that you discover the Cape and Islands are a locavore’s dream. Cape Cod’s ever-bountiful cuisine is spread out before you at the Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH), held this year in Hyannis, the weekend of September 24-26. You can savor seasonal epicurean delights prepared by excellent local chefs, many who come from year-round Cape restaurants, or stock up for hearty winter cuisine with fresh out of the garden fare at a farmers market.
The weekend of October 2 and 3, Falmouth’s Barnstable County Fairgrounds come alive with a fall festival where you can find great homemade items from local growers and artisans-—it’s a terrific place to stock up for holiday entertaining and gift-giving. On Columbus Day weekend, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival offers a craft fair, fireworks, and good music.
For a lot more ways to savor your Cape autumn, turn to page 48 and peruse “Festivals, Feasts, and Fun,” our feature on autumn’s highlights. And if the winter days close in too soon, you can always spend a day on Main Street, Hyannis where Puritan Cape Cod’s resourceful owners have partnered with Solstice Spa and the Naked Oyster restaurant- (see our story on page 54) to offer fine shopping, personalized spa services, and tasty cuisine-—all in one convenient indoor location. Wear a pair of flip-flops and you can pretend that summer never left.
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.
Up to the age of 22, I spent my life solidly in leaf-peeping country. I grew up in Maine, on the coast, on a road tangled with white pines and red maples and tall, strong oaks. The population ebbed and flowed with the colors: full on red, empty by brown, and come green, filling up again.
For college, I moved to Vermont, and the rule held fast there, too. The start of classes marked the arrival of the lackadaisical, meandering drivers: Subarus pulled over shoulder-side, necks craned, mittens clutching cups of cider and big eyes gazing up toward the sky. Their windows danced with scarlets and mustards and vermilion as they cruised up and down Route 7, back and forth until the first snowfall came.
When I moved to the Cape, I realized that here, it’s a whole new game. Driving out I watched the trees shrink down, broad deciduous shoulders giving way to scrawny, tufted pitch pines along the edges and a swath of rusted oaks in between. I felt the town swell up with visitors in May, and let out with a whoosh come Labor Day. I waited for those crisp, bright fall days. The feeling came, but the colors were all a different paint. The last of the beachgoers left, and in their place settled muted oranges, browns, a quiet grey.
The second fall, the year I was 23, my friend Caitlin sent a letter from Vermont. “October 17th,” she began, “The foliage is back again.” There was a maple leaf tucked in—dried and pressed, a bright, carmine red, and on the back of the card, a recipe for a warm fall salad of roasted pumpkin and harvest veggies with chickpeas. I clipped it up on my recipe board and promised to write Caitlin back when I tried it that week. November passed and then December, and slowly, two years trickled by. I got used to the quiet and the grey, and new recipes covered the notecard up.
Last fall, in early October, when the squashes arrived at the farmers markets—Hubbard, butternut, acorn—I brought a sugar pumpkin home. I had a few lingering tomatoes and cucumbers, too, and a stockpile of red onions I was drying out for the fall. I rustled through my recipe pile, searching for inspiration, and a red maple leaf fluttered out.
I paged through my clippings, and at the bottom of the stack, there it was: a navy blue and yellow note card with Caitlin’s handwritten instructions scrawled out. I followed them to a tee: roasted the pie pumpkin, tossed it with garlic, boiled the chickpeas with onions and a bay leaf. I chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and made a dressing of olive oil and lime juice. I peppered and salted and mixed, and in less than an hour, I had on the table Caitlin’s dish.
It was perfect the way it straddled the seasons—the last of the fresh harvest, the first of the storage goods. It wasn’t cold tabouli, but neither was it hot soup. It walked the same middle ground as October, one day warm and bright, another that quiet, chilly grey. The next morning, I got out a note card and a pen, wrote Caitlin a letter and stuffed the envelope with the small tan leaf of a Cape Cod oak.
Elspeth’s recipe for pumpkin, chickpea, and harvest vegetable salad.
When asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I said, “Thank you, but I really don’t need anything.” I don’t have room in my closet for another shirt. Of course, my wife Judy loves to suggest we make room in the closet by throwing away my favorite old clothes. Our sons, Josh and Max, agree with Judy on the subject.
So I said, “I know what I want. Let’s all spend one afternoon together hanging the lobster trap buoys back up on the boathouse where they belong.” Judy liked the idea, but the boys looked at me as if I were about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.
Our collection of lobster trap buoys had been sitting in a heap since they were removed in order to paint the outside of the boathouse. We call it the boathouse because that is where we store our life jackets, anchor lines, boat soap, flairs, whistles, horns, you name it. The “Lady Carline” life saving ring, from our former motor-sailer, hangs prominently on the back wall.
We have called the lobster trap markers, “beach treasures,” ever since Josh and Max have been old enough to walk the beach and help find them. For years family vacations regularly included beach walks on Cuttyhunk and shoreline searches of nearby islands in a small motor skiff. Right after a storm was always the best time for collecting. How fondly I recall the peopleless, rock-strewn shorelines with the constant rushing and crushing sounds of the surf. We would respond with delight to come across a lobster trap buoy, not tied to a trap, and yet in good enough shape to be worth bringing home. We were heedless, heartfelt, and headstrong.
Technically speaking, existing regulations indicated that any wash-a-shore or otherwise found fishing gear should be left alone, in hopes the original owner might find it. I say, “What are the chances of that happening?” Well, in fact, one lobsterman I met a few years back told me he had seen our boathouse collection from his boat and that I had one of his buoys hanging up there. Knowing the regulations, I immediately offered to return it to him if he would tell me which one it was. He said, “Oh, no thanks, I like seeing my buoy hanging in your collection.”
To me the lobster trap buoys represent more than fond memories of family times at the shore. They are symbols of Cape Cod’s proud sea-faring heritage. They remind me of the hard working men and women who have fished and shell-fished New England waters for centuries, that we might enjoy the bounty of the sea. I have done just enough lobstering to appreciate the work involved. I feel that if I am lucky enough to live by the water, it is appropriate to pay this symbolic respect to the Cape’s seafaring way of life.
So, we did spend the afternoon on Father’s Day, just the four of us, hanging our beach treasures all around the boathouse. It was a fun-loving project, after which Joshua photographed the boathouse for me. As the boys get older, now 13 and 16, family time becomes ever more precious.
Also, I did receive a few small gifts for Father’s Day. I am hard to shop for, but they know I enjoy books of quips and quotes. So they found one for me entitled Are You A Miserable Old Bastard? Thus far, I am enjoying reading it. Tells me something.
P.S. “The memories we collect and give
brighten our lives as long as we live.” -Unknown
Susan Black knows all about longing for people and places left behind. Although she lives in Colorado now, part of her heart will always be on Nantucket. “Nantucket is my second home,” says Black, who moved to Boulder year-round several years ago after living there on and off for decades. The 51-year-old explains that a tragedy brought her to Colorado full-time. “I have a niece and nephew there who I love dearly. They are my brother’s children—he passed away nine years ago,” she says.
It seems appropriate, somehow, that Black’s business should be based on a historic longing of travelers for treasured places. She sells Nantucket Sailors’ Valentine kits on-line and in specialty shops. When you type Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits into a Google search, her company, www.nantucketsailorsvalentinekits.com, appears first at the top of the page.
For several years, Black lived on Nantucket, having come to the island for the first time as a twenty-something. Later on in life, she moved to the island year-round and eventually became a substitute teacher at the Cyrus Pierce Middle School.
Black’s first venture in to Nantucket crafts started when she taught herself to make Nantucket baskets. Fascinated by the iconic island craft that is still very much in vogue today, she studied the baskets before diving into the difficult, time-consuming process of creating a basket from scratch. “I taught myself to make the Nantucket baskets and I made a bunch of them for fun,” says Black, who obviously has a talent for focusing in on a project and sticking to it despite setbacks and the occasional failure. “When the baskets were done, I brought them to the island’s Folk Art Fair.”
An impressed relative commissioned Black to create a 30-inch basket for a coffee table. “It was quite a project,” says Black. “I couldn’t find anyone on the island to make me the mold I wanted and surprisingly, I found someone in Colorado to make me the mold. But I made the basket handles and the rims by myself, finding the wood, soaking it, and bending it into shape.”
It is obvious that this is a craftsperson with a logical, business-like head on her shoulders. When she is asked if she considers herself a talented person with artistic ability, she laughs. “I’m kind of middle-of-the-road crafty,” says Black. “But I get into something and just kind of do it all the way.”
In 2005, Black was on Nantucket with a friend visiting her two sisters who still live on the island year-round. While showing the friend some of the island’s attractions, including the Nantucket Historical Association’s (NHA) Whaling Museum, Black became enamored of Sailors’ Valentines.
“We went to the NHA’s whaling museum shop,” says Black. “We saw an octagonal cloth covered object and we thought—gosh, I wonder if this a kit where you can make your own sailors valentines!” The pair quickly realized that they were looking at a book by avid sailors’ valentine collector, John Fondas. Still, the chance encounter sparked an idea for a new business. “I turned to Donna and said with your art background and my business and art background —why don’t we start a sailors’ valentines kit business?”
After a month of careful research, including learning about the sizes and sources for shells around the world, the best wood and size for a glass-fronted box, the intricacies of packaging and shipping the kits, and the designs that have endured since homesick sailors first crafted valentines for their loved ones, Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits was born.
Black explains there are a handful of traditional sailors’ valentines themes usually seen at such places as the Sanibel, Florida annual Shell Fair, where elaborate sailors’ valentines are on display. “The designs really haven’t changed all that much,” says Black. “There is usually an all-white valentine as well as ones with a star theme, a heart theme, one with a pink rosette in the center; these are your traditional sailors valentines’ themes. Also, many valentines have a photo at the center, or a piece of scrimshaw.”
Working with her friend who is a graphic artist, Black created the designs, composed an easy-to-follow instruction book, ordered shells from around the world, and at the end of 2005, launched her kits at the Nantucket Christmas Stroll Craft Fair. She quickly realized that although each of her kits contains dozens of carefully separated shells, a beautiful hand-crafted octagonal wooden shadow box with a glass front (8 3/4 inches) and brass hinges, two carefully written instruction books, glue, and more, the price tag was a little high for off-the-street customers.
“It’s true that the kits are a little pricey—$125.00 each,” says Black. “We realized that we probably weren’t going to sell many at craft fairs. So we turned to one or two high-end shops—and the Internet.” It was on the Internet that Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits began to take off in the company’s second year of business—and since then, sales have doubled every single year. “I think that’s pretty encouraging for the kind of business we are in—a really specialized business,” says Black, who notes that since 2006, she has been the sole owner of the business.
Over the years, Black has refined her product carefully, evaluating what works and what doesn’t and encouraging customers to give her honest feedback. On her easy-to-navigate web-site, quotes from happy customers from around the world are testament to the company’s success. The kits are also sold at the Leslie Linsley shops on Nantucket and on Charles Street in Boston. Black is also introducing a line of classy, yet reasonably-priced paperweights ($20) with nautical themes in 2010.
When she is asked what her ultimate wish is for her company, Black laughs. “Well, to be honest, when I started this business my true goal was to build something like this—and then sell it,” says Black. “But you know, I am having such fun with this that I’m just going to keep going. I’m just enjoying running this great home-based business, where I count seashells for a living in the Rocky Mountains.”
For information on Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines, go to www.nantucketsailorsvalentinekits.com or call 508 292-3502.
Cape and Islands’ sources for Nantucket Sailors Valentines
Gayle Condit, www.sailorvalentines.com, 508 896-6194. Gayle Condit is an award-winning Cape artisan whose sailors valentines can be purchased at European Traditions Antiques, Nantucket, Chatham Art Gallery, Chatham, Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery, Edgartown, and Kindred’s, Osterville.
Kindreds, www.kindredsantiquesandfolkart.com, 845 Main Street, Osterville, 508 420-7390. Kindreds carries sailors valentines by Gayle Condit as well as a wide range of arts and crafts by Cape and Islands’ artisans.
Theresa Labrecque, www.labrecque.com, 774-323-0333. Theresa Labrecque is a talented artist and painter who also designs and sells Nantucket Sailors Valentines. Her work was featured in the 2010 ART of the Cape & Islands, a Cape Cod Life Publication.
Sandy Moran, www.sailorsvalentinestudio.com, 508 362-8410. Sandy Moran, of Yarmouthport, has won numerous awards around the country for her sailors’ valentines, which are sold on Cape Cod and the Islands, including at Osterville’s Oak and Ivory. Moran’s valentines have been featured on PBS and in many national and regional magazines.
Scrimshander Gallery, www.scrimshandergallery.com, 38 Centre Street, Nantucket, 508- 228-1004. The Scrimshander Gallery is owned by professional scrimshander and artist, Michael Vienneau, who sells completed sailors valentines and also handcrafts scrimshaw centerpieces for sailors valentine construction. The shop also carries model ships, ivory displays and basket tops.