As the New Year yawns open this morning I sit at my desk surrounded with stacks of cookbooks, each pile stamped with a yellow sticky: “New Bedford.” “South Coast.” “Martha’s Vineyard.” “Nantucket.” -
Nine piles in all, each pile representing the way a community on the craggy-toothed Massachusetts coastline has been feeding its families, its hard-working people, and celebrating itself for as long as anyone has been writing it down. My job in the next six months is to assemble the best recipes from these communities, and write their story for a full-color, hard-copy book to be released by Globe Pequot Press in spring of 2015. From the Wampanoags on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to the privateer and yachting stories of Marblehead, the treasure here is as varied as it is rich.
In the past month I’ve walked New Bedford’s gritty streets and driven along Chilmark’s lanes lined in stonewalls, stood on the cliffs of Aquinnah. I’ve revisited Rockport’s “boom” moment – the granite industry and I’ve come to understand how whaling was the winning lottery ticket for just about everyone – English and Native Americans together – for about a hundred years.
Wampanoags, Cape Verdeans, Portuguese, Azoreans, Sicilians, Finns, Swedes, and the English; these are the people who have been making their version of a chowder – with quahogs, with scallops, with linquica, with kale, with cream and crackers – along the Massachusetts coast; the soups and stews are as varied as the names of the people stirring the pots: “Fast Turtle.” “Almeida.” “Madeiros.” “Dovale.” “Tarantino.” “Kaihlenen.” “Johnson.” “Cabot.”
At first I thought the common piece here was whaling. No, I decided, it’s just fishing. And, no, I decided later, the true element bonding them all is water. The way each group goes down to the sea, they way they arrived here from foreign lands to go down to this particular patch of Atlantic Ocean, that is the one story from which each of their recipes arise.
Really, what a book this can be; it’s a great honor to have been asked to write it.
Melville’s Ishmael talks about his epic voyage like this; in my own little way, I sort of feel as if he’s describing the start of my own voyage in this new year.
I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way- he can better answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances.
Happy New Year to my friends; thanks for reading, commenting and sharing, in every sense of that word!