On Martha’s Vineyard, where the grocery stores proudly sell Island-grown meat and kids plant veggies at school, growing one’s own food is hardly breaking news. But some Islanders have taken this Do-It-Yourself impulse a step further by designing and building their own kitchen equipment, from solar ovens to industrial smokers. And while they’re hard at work pumping out great meals, (in most cases using only the freshest, most-local ingredients), these homegrown slow cookers are also busy building another Island-inspired tradition: community.

When Steve Solarazza built his first solar oven he was already deeply enmeshed in living a sustainable life. “It’s not just practical,” he said of his family’s lifestyle, “it’s also a lot of fun.” Solarazza, his wife Emily and their two children live in a straw bale home in Vineyard Haven which is powered by solar electric and hot water. By their standards, a solar oven was by no means radical. The Solarazzas cook beans, potatoes, chicken, fish and sometimes lasagna outside in the oven, a glass box with a funnel shaped reflective shade tipped toward the sun. “It’s pretty versatile,” said Steve, “But it has its limitations-you can’t bake bread.”

Most solar ovens have a simple design and straightforward mechanism. The Solarazzas use theirs year-round, and Steve thinks that just about anyone could get use out of a backyard cooker.

When Kaila Allen-Posin returned from a yearlong trip to India in 2009 she was excited about permaculture, the philosophy of working with nature, rather than against it. While abroad she learned to build with cob, an ancient technique utilizing materials that are readily available, traditionally a combination of clay, sand and straw. “The idea is to take materials from your land to build something that is not really permanent. Someday it will return to the land it came from,” she explained.

Kaila was eager to try the method here at home, and so together with about 10 friends she built her first cob oven at the home of David and Saskia Vanderhoop in Aquinnah. Kaila called the building process a fun, communal affair full of good friends, food, drink and music. They built the oven over the course of a weekend and returned a week later once the materials were dried to make pizzas.

A few years ago Kaila, her husband Ned and some friends built another oven at their home on the Allen Farm in Chilmark. The oven, constructed on a palette so it could be easily moved around the farm, is typically used to cook meat, bread and pies. Last summer they hosted a pizza party for their daughter’s first birthday and guests brought their own toppings. “It’s a fun little tool,” said Kaila.

Six years ago Everett Whiting built a mid-size smoker so he could cook ribs and chicken with his friends. When his friend Tim Laursen saw the smoker he immediately saw a business opportunity and announced: “We have to do the fair.” And so Local Smoke, a traveling catering business, was born. In his driveway in Vineyard Haven, Tim refurbished a 500-gallon propane tank into a commercial size smoker. Everett raised pigs and bought chickens from local farmers. Since then Tim has become deeply interested in barbecue culture, traveling to festivals and studying what goes on behind the scenes. He has since built and sold two more smokers. “I’ve been a builder my whole life,” he said, “but I also love hosting parties and getting people together.”

Over the course of the four-day fair, Tim and Everett smoke about 1,700 pounds of pork. Though they will continue to do the fair together as Local Smoke, Everett is taking a step back from catering to work on a new project while taking more time to cook for friends. He’s looking forward to summer when he will put a bunch of oysters in a saltwater soaked burlap sack and cook them over a fire. But have no fear: there will still be smoke and it will still be local. Tim is getting ready to launch his new catering company, Smoak Barbecue. “I just want to cook as much as I can,” he said.

Juli Vanderhoop plays host at Orange Peel Bakery's popular Pizza Nights.

Perhaps the Island’s best-known outdoor oven belongs to Juli Vanderhoop. Juli is the owner of Orange Peel Bakery and the host of Wednesday Pizza Night, an up-Island summertime institution. Juli’s oven was imported from France and all 5,000 pounds of it showed up in her driveway in three boxes one morning in the early summer of 2006. “I thought to myself, ‘What have I done,?’” she said. Ten years later and that oven is still cranking out what Juli calls a “phenomenal product,” in the form of baguettes, biscuits, raspberry bars, popovers and loaves that are truly artisanal. “I never stop working,” she said, “I’m always tending the oven and working on timing.”

Though Juli and her staff follow the same recipes the end result can differ slightly depending on a range of conditions, including who happens to be manning the oven. When her staff frets about the differences Juli tells them, “Your stuff isn’t supposed to look like mine. It’s not cookie-cutter and that’s what makes it wonderful.”

From the beginning, Juli hoped that Orange Peel would be an asset to the island, and to Aquinnah in particular. “Traditionally, when you have an oven as big as mine you’d invite the community to gather around it,” she said. And when she takes in the crowd gathered around her front yard – which in the height of summer can get up to 100 people, locals mingling with tourists — she feels like she has succeeded.


Orange Peel Bakery's Raspberry Bars with Almond Crust

2 ½ cups slivered almonds, divided

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 cups oats

1 tablespoon and one teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups (four sticks) cold butter

2 cups brown sugar

4 tablespoons almond extract

2 eggs

2 ½ cups raspberry jam

1. Sauté ½ cup of the almonds in a pan until golden brown and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, oats, remaining almonds, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In another bowl combine the butter and brown sugar. Add the almond extract and eggs and blend.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, and mix until well blended. Press the mixture into eight 8” tart pans, onto the bottom and up the sides, leaving enough room for filling.

5. Bake the tarts at 360 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove them from oven and when cool, fill the shells with raspberry jam and top with the reserved toasted almonds. Bake the tarts for an additional 25 to 35 minutes, until the crusts are a rich, golden color.

6. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut each tart into pieces and serve.


Tim Laursen's Chimichurri

A lover of all things BBQ, Tim has recently fallen in love with 
 Argentinian cooking, particularly this simple chimichurri, an herb-based sauce that can be used as a marinade or dip for any type of meat.

1 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (you can use fresh oregano too)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup red pepper flakes

4 cloves garlic

salt and pepper

1. Use a Microplane to grate the garlic or smash into a paste.

2. Combine vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and let sit

while you chop the herbs. 3. When you think you are done chopping, chop some more until you have a fluffy pile of green plant dust.

4. Stir parsley and cilantro into the mix then slowly add the oils as you whisk.

5. Use as a marinade or put a dollop on the meat while it cooks.