Our Lunch with Rita
Former Cape Cod restaurateur prepares a garden meal befitting her Azorean roots
On a recent warm, Cape Cod afternoon, some Cape Cod LIFE staffers and I accepted an invitation for lunch at the home of our longtime friend, Rita Pacheco.
As we traveled along the sort of bumpy dirt lanes that were commonplace on the Cape years ago, venturing around blind corners and deep into the woods, we left behind the buzz of vacationing families in a beachside community in Falmouth and entered into what seemed a completely different world, one that moved at a slower, calmer pace. Stepping out of our cars, we were transported to the Old World—and to a wonderful afternoon meal with friends.
With a long and successful history of operating local businesses—Rita and her husband, Rob previously owned the Quarterdeck Restaurant, The Beachmoor Restaurant & Inn, and Ivies, a floral and home design shop—Rita possesses an uncommon flair for hospitality and décor. The couple owns a lovely, shingle-style home in Falmouth, and immediately upon approaching the front door, interesting design details begin to catch our attention.
As we waited at the door, I glanced to my right to discover a massive, wrought iron window box on the porch that was full of heart-shaped stones Rita had found on her beach walks. Whatever awaited us on the other side of the door was bound to be special, I thought, and perhaps even magical.
Rita greeted us with her usual smile and warm spirit, a welcome her patrons would fondly remember, and somehow she also exuded a refreshing coolness despite the day’s humidity.
As we settled in, Rita announced we were about to be treated to an afternoon meal exclusively featuring ingredients harvested just two hours before—and prepared in the ways she had learned as a young woman growing up in the Azores. Dating back many generations, Rita’s family has lived on São Miguel, an Azorean island known for its lush vegetation, succulent pineapples, and a thriving tea plantation.
Just as we were received in Falmouth that afternoon, Rita says friends and visitors have always been welcomed to her family’s home in Sao Miguel to enjoy the bounties and treasures the family has to share.
We meandered through the gardens in the backyard, making our way first to the hen house. Rita introduced us to the beautiful fowl responsible for producing the protein portion of our meal. When we asked about the hens’ names, Rita informed us they had not been given any. “They are not pets,” she says. “They are egg producers.”
After encouraging us to retrieve the newly laid eggs from beneath the warm hens, Rita presented us with a rustic basket loaded with samples of all the freshly gathered ingredients that would comprise our soon-to-be-enjoyed lunch.
Everywhere in Rita and Rob’s backyard, nature is treated as an artist’s palette. Sculptural branches have been re-purposed into railings that mark paths leading to various garden “rooms”; a stone slab unearthed to create space for the lush surroundings finds new function as a dining table, nestled among embracing shrubs and blooming hydrangeas. The beautifully appointed table utilizes unexpected garden touches such as knife stands made from twigs cut from the gnarled and curious Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus Avellana).
Even our place settings were punctuated by napkin rings fashioned from lengths of ivy vine—and rested atop pressed ferns. I commented to our friends that perhaps the spot is where fairies dine.
Before long, our table was laden with vintage, enamel serving dishes loaded with farro and chopped kale salads, fresh potatoes, and open-faced sandwiches starring the hens’ golden eggs. The entire meal—supplied and garnished from the gardens, beds, and rows that surrounded our woodland lunch—filled our bellies and our souls, and inspired our conversation.
Fully understanding why Europeans indulge in a nap to recharge after a lengthy mid-day meal, Rita instead treated us to homemade cappuccino pops made from a strong and tasty coffee. The treat was a perfect counter to the day’s heat.
After lunch, Rita continued our garden tour, showcasing the potato field, where the spuds are less “harvested” than they are “collected” like precious beach stones. We then observed several unique sculptures made from the remains of overused or “over-loved” trowels, hoes, and other garden tools and gazed at Rita’s surprisingly flourishing Kiwi fruit vine.
We also noted the couple’s outdoor fireplace—literally a firebox built into a stonewall that encircles a stone patio just off the house; this cozy spot is perfect, Rita says, for evening chats and gatherings, year-round. The patio consists of Goshen stone pavers and lush sod and inspires visions of Mad Hatter tea parties or the ultimate, backyard soiree.
After our sumptuous meal and a brief tour of our host’s home, the time came for us to leave behind this world of hospitality, serenity and creativity to return to a reality of deadlines, to-do lists and mundane-by-comparison meals. As twilight made its appearance, we bid Rita farewell with promises to meet again soon. As I drove away, I wondered if perhaps the fairies and fireflies were even at that moment asking Rita if her guests had enjoyed their stay.