How many pounds of flour, how many pounds of sugar, how many pounds of butter have passed through this place in the last 37 years? How many scones, how many shortbreads, how many jars of beach plum jelly, how many rhubarb pies?
No one ever counted. And no one ever wrote down the recipes.
But these days at the Scottish Bakehouse, no one is baking anymore, either. The ovens are cold, the baking racks are empty and the ancient two-burner gas stove where Isabella White boiled down her jelly for more than three decades is unlit. Inside the listing, shingled cottage that is an unmistakable Island landmark, the air is cloaked in a kind of soft, chilly silence.
The Scottish Bakehouse will close for good on Christmas day.
On a mild December morning this week, bakehouse owner Peter Maxwell White and his wife Norma sat on the linoleum counter in the bakehouse kitchen and talked about endings.
"Closing the business is hard. But leaving the people - they are not just customers, they are family. That's the really hard part," Norma said.
"You've just got to move on," said Peter.
On the morning of Dec. 25, the Whites will wake up before dawn and make Christmas dinner for the homebound elderly residents of the Vineyard, a tradition begun by the late Isabella White more than 20 years ago and performed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. As always, the Whites will take no money for their work.
But this year, one thing will be different.
"At one o'clock on Christmas day we will close the door, take the sign down and walk away to a new life," Norma said. "We'll probably shed a few tears, and then we will lock the door for the last time in 37 years."
The tears came early. Rob Roy MacGregor 2nd, a Yorkshire terrier, flopped in Norma's arms, looked up briefly and then flopped again.
Founded by Isabella White, a native of Peebleshire, Scotland, who came from a family of shepherds, the Scottish Bakehouse first opened in the summer of 1964. In that year there were only three places on the Island where fresh baked goods were available. In its earliest days, the bakehouse would use 25 pounds of flour in a week; in later years, when the bakehouse reached its heyday, the weekly order grew to more than 3,000 pounds.
The Scottish Bakehouse eventually became one of those distinctly Vineyard places, where the loyal patrons included multiple generations of the same families. The children of people who bought their pies at the bakehouse grew up and continued to buy their pies at the bakehouse. Young people who worked at the bakehouse grew up and had children who worked at the bakehouse.
Isabella White died in 1997.
The bakehouse was inherited by her three children, including Peter, Robert and Isabel. Robert lives in Scotland and Isabel lives in Nova Scotia. A year ago, when Peter began to look into upgrading the building, the three siblings confronted the hard truth: two of them had no interest in putting money into the bakehouse, and wanted to sell their interests. Peter could not afford to buy them out, so the decision was made. The bakehouse, which sits on two acres of rolling land on State Road, would be closed and sold.
Peter and Norma are matter-of-fact about the situation.
"It's really not something we had any control over," Peter said.
They now plan to make a new life on the mainland. They admit that they cannot bear to drive by the bakehouse and see it as a changed place, but they also admit life on the Vineyard has changed enough that they are ready to move on.
"It's not the Vineyard that we knew anymore," Norma said - again, the statement is delivered without bitterness.
The Whites express a kind of tacit acceptance of the facts: Times change. A short distance down the road, the Black Dog Cafe is a large and thriving bakery operation.
But still there are the memories, including the many memories of Isabella, the crusty Scottish matron who ruled the bakehouse with an iron hand, a tender heart and a bit of mischief in her eye.
"The story of the Scottish bakehouse is really the story of Mrs. White," said Katharine Tweed, a Vineyard resident whose friendship with Isabella White went back for 50 years. Among other things Ms. Tweed is the owner of the Tashmoo Press, which published the Scottish Bakehouse Cookbook beginning in 1972.
Mrs. White never wrote down her recipes - except when she published the cookbook, and even then her instructions were often absent precise measurements.
"A wee pickle of this, a tad of that, a knob of butter - those were her measurements," said Norma, who once spent six months figuring out the proper proportions for scones.
"She would look at me and say, ‘Don't you have something better to do?'" Norma recalled. Her experimental work paid off later when a woman who had traveled around the world told Norma that the scones were the best she had ever tasted.
Peter began working at the bakehouse the first summer it opened and has worked there full-time since 1988. Among other things, he is the pie man. The recipe for his crust?
"The recipe is in this head, and that is where it stays," he smiled. His speech is tinged with a Scottish brogue even though he has lived in this country for some 40 years.
The kitchen is graced by aging linoleum and Hobart mixers that Peter estimates are 60 years old.
"Guy came in here one day and told me no way could we ever get parts for those mixers," he said.
But parts were never necessary because in 37 years, the mixers never broke down.
There are so many stories. Like the one about the Lambert's Cove summer resident for whom every birthday cake in his life has come from the bakehouse. He is now 33.
Or the one about the elderly couple that asked for a holiday dinner, even though they weren't on the official list from the Island senior citizen network. The woman offered to pay for the dinner, and Norma said she would charge three dollars. But when the woman came to pick up the dinner, Norma changed her mind.
"I said, ‘Do me a favor. Put the money in a Salvation Army bucket the next time you go by,'" she said.
"She was really a jokester," said Ms. Tweed, recounting one of her favorite stories.
"When British people would come into the store she would put on a brogue that was totally incomprehensible, and then as soon as they bought something she would burst forth with impeccable English," she said.
Ms. Tweed said the legacy of the Scottish Bakehouse was felt most keenly among the young people who worked for Mrs. White over the years. "The legions of Island children who worked for her - who she taught the value of work - are really mourning right now," she said.
In the bakehouse, a gingerbread house sat on the counter. Norma was suddenly struck by a memory.
"We used to have a contest building gingerbread houses - Isabella would challenge us and we would go crazy to see who could make the best gingerbread house," she said.
Peter's gaze strays to the counter.
"That's the last one right there," he said, adding softly:
"No more baking."