Last fall Tomar Waldman and Keepa Lowe were driving around the Vineyard enjoying the crisp autumn air. On their journey, they wondered what it may have been like for the people of the Wampanoag Tribe and their food sources centuries ago.

They envisioned the Wampanoags with an abundance of berries from the byways, the grapes that hang from the vines, along with huckleberries, blueberries and cranberries at the end of the harvesting season. They thought about the root vegetables that were stored each winter in root cellars or kept cold in attics, and the fish that were stored in brine in barrels. Tomar and Keepa wanted to know more.

Over the winter, Tomar spoke with this writer, who in turn introduced Tomar to Kristina Hook-Leslie. Tomar was invited to a tribal elders luncheon over the winter. More meetings were held, telephone calls were made, and one final planning session was held on the porch of the Chilmark Store in late September.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, Kristina, Keepa and Tomar, and I, along with a dozen cohorts, trudged through the woodlands in Aquinnah for several hours to identify plants and berries that would have been on the menu centuries ago. They were not as successful as they would have liked, due largely to dessication of the vegetation by salt spray from the tropical storm in August. There were no beach plums at all this season. But the cranberry crop is rather abundant.

Nevertheless, the fruits of the labors of Tomar, Keepa, Kristina and others will be apparent at the first annual Martha’s Vineyard slow food harvest potluck. On Friday afternoon, they will meet in Jan Buhrman’s kitchen to begin preparing some of the dishes for the potluck dinner and will be joined by Catherine Walthers, and Kay Goldstein (author of A Book of Feasts) written with a chapter featuring members of the Wampanoag Tribe.

All are invited to join them and others for the dinner on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.

Traditional Wampanoag dishes such as venison stew and sea bass with sage stuffing will be offered as well as journey cakes made with corn meal from the Sandwich Grist Mill and baked in the clay ovens at the Orange Peel Bakery.

The Wampanoags were hunters and gatherers but also cultivated crops such as corn, squash and beans (historically known as the three sisters). Living on the Vineyard, they relied heavily on the food from the ocean. Bass, bluefish, herring, clams, oysters, mussels and lobsters, to name a few, gave them a rich and diverse diet.

Kristina Hook-Leslie, a Wampanoag elder, will talk about her life in Aquinnah and the education she received from her mother and grandmother in foraging and the cooking of their native dishes. Julianne Vanderhoop and I will join Kristina in sharing tribal family stories and perhaps a recipe or two.

Following dinner, the short film Foraging in Aquinnah, will be shown featuring Kristina and produced by Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth of Film-Truth Productions. Liz and Ken created this eight-minute short to be included in a feature length film on sustainability.

Please bring a dish for six to share as well as your own plates, cups, bowls, and utensils for this carry in/carry out, zero waste potluck dinner. Bring your own beverages. Donations are appreciated.