Home Port Cookbook: Beloved Recipes from Martha’s Vineyard. By Will Holtham with A. D. Minnick, Photography by Mike Buytas, Illustrations by Susan Tobey White, Lyons Press, $19.95
I think of cookbooks as short story collections with happy endings. An author’s recipes and anecdotes take us places faraway or familiar, filling a reader with wonder, dreams and even nostalgia. Not all the cookbooks on my shelf are meant for my kitchen. Many are there simply to fuel my imagination, my memory. Still and as if by osmosis, the words and images inevitably inspire my kitchen. Will Holtham’s recently-released Home Port Cookbook (Lyons Press) is such a collection. Mr. Holtham, the former owner/restaurateur of the beloved Home Port in Menemsha, fills the pages of his cookbook with remembrances of friends and family, loves made and loves lost, the meaning of good luck and the many meals shared watching the sunset. It is a mélange of local fish lore, some good advice (see page 161) and recipes from his days along the shores of Menemsha, from janitor to cook to owner.
Mr. Holtham’s recipe for Lobster Thermidor (pages 98-99) rich with mushrooms, dry sherry, heavy cream and generous proportions of tail and claw, or his Oysters Rockefeller (page 57) with spinach, Worcestershire, Pernod, garlic, shallots and Parmesan, are timely and classic. Vineyard, absolutely. But these recipes do more. They linger, evoke and awake forgotten memories — real or imagined — of smoke-filled supper clubs, three-martini lunches and the vogue days of dining gone by, faded like a vintage Lilly Pulitzer dress.
Swordfish (pages 111-112) was a Home Port staple, basic and good — just like the prime rib with beef au jus served with an oven-warm eggy popover was to the Square Rigger — Mr. Holtham’s other (and former) flagship restaurant in Edgartown. Every summer, the loyal would migrate back to the Home Port’s polished wood tables set with blue water glasses sweating in the heat. Under the glass-eyed gazes of conquered trophies mounted on the walls overlooking the supersized cuts of this fish, broiled or grilled, their summer became replete.
But the tides, they ebb and flow. And as the currents go, so go the fish. As the fish go, so go the fisheries and so must we, the eaters. Large-scale fishing industries impact the health of the oceans. How a fish is caught or farmed makes a difference to its future and watery ecosystems. Diners’ awareness about sustainable seafood is on the rise, as any local Larsen or Poole fishmonger will surely attest. What is considered ocean-friendly seafood today and what will define it in the future, may seem to conspire against what we want for dinner.
Or, what we remember dinner to have been. Fish counters are filleted conundrums on ice. These days, dining weekly on slabs of bluefin tuna or Atlantic cod may not be the best choice. Keeping swordfish to a once-a-summer, harpooned treat could be a wise strategy. Yet it is a pleasure to remember the carefree days of wild seafood abundance. And it’s exactly for those reasons that Mr. Holtham’s cookbook is a local classic. A delight. Mr. Holtham takes us back to what freedom, fried clams and summer feels like, bellying up to Home Port’s Back Door, barefoot in cutoffs on still-warm, sun-soaked asphalt for one of Chet’s pecan rolls (pages 220-221), or a slice of key lime pie, 60s style (page 207).
This is a love story and a scrapbook with good recipes, to a time and place on Martha’s Vineyard. And when you need to reacquaint yourself with the practicals such as a recipe for red cocktail sauce (page 185) or how to shuck a clam, a quahaug or an oyster, you need only to turn to pages 42 and 43. Be inspired to make your own cup of chowder (pages 28-29). Once the cold weather descends, broil some sweeter-than-candy bay scallops (page 69) and raise a glass to this tasty and thriving local bivalve and its fishermen. The memories, sights, smells and tastes of the Vineyard seas are your happy endings.
Ali Berlow is the editor of Edible Vineyard.