Sections

9.1.08

Capitalizing on Cookbooks

Many of us can remember a time when indulging in a truly memorable meal was much like finding a piece of blue sea glass – it could happen, but it was a noteworthy event. Now Martha’s Vineyard has some fine restaurants and first-rate chefs, however I would hardly call it a culinary destination. So it surprises me when I walk into a bookstore and see how many Martha’s Vineyard–related cookbooks line the shelves. One might get the impression that we have the kind of cuisine here that merits more than a dozen cookbooks.

Maybe I’m missing something? It’s true, these cookbooks contain some fabulous recipes. But aren’t we giving our visitors the wrong impression?

From The Martha’s Vineyard Table to Delish! The J.W. Jackson Recipes: A Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook to A Culinary Tour of the Gingerbread Cottages of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association, outsiders might wonder if every meal is worthy of documentation. Imagine the explaining we’ll have to do if the I Visited Martha’s Vineyard Once: A Day of My Martha’s Vineyard Meals cookbook hits the stores.

Perhaps I am missing something. The Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook has been updated four times and boasts this description on the back cover: “Through the centuries inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard have harvested the bounty of its vine-covered land and the ocean that surrounds it. This newly updated and comprehensive cookbook contains more than 250 authentic recipes that reflect the culinary heritage of the peoples who have made this tiny island their home – Wampanoag Indians, English and Scottish whaling families, Portuguese fishermen, and many others.”

If only I had realized earlier that I was living on an island with such a strong culinary tradition. How did I miss this? Why am I always whining for more ethnic restaurants when I am living in the epicenter of fine food?

Or perhaps, as I suspect, there’s some marketing muscle in play here. After all, 21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox, which kind of qualifies as a cookbook, was a selling sensation. Can’t you just picture the marketing department at you-name-it publishers scheming to find a way to put the words Martha’s Vineyard into a title? Oh how joyous they’d be if they could get other hot spots in the title as well – Nantucket, the Hamptons, even Provence.

Recently I started wondering if it was possible that we hold the record for number of local-cuisine–related books per capita. I asked Susan Mercier, manager of Edgartown Books, what she thought. She told me that many of the titles I listed off to her as proof of my theory are actually out of print, which made them ineligible.

Still convinced that I was on to something, I looked up Nantucket cookbooks online. There are quite a few cookbooks featuring Nantucket food – and their year-round population is significantly less than ours. Stiff competition.

So if it’s not cookbooks, which record do we get to call ours?

I once heard that the Vineyard is second in the country for weddings. Las Vegas is first. How about the highest gas prices in the nation? Probably not – but we’re a contender. In 2006, a city-to-city speed record was broken when two people flew a Glasair II kit plane from Minneapolis to Martha’s Vineyard. There you go – but that doesn’t really seem like a Vineyardy type of record.

Cookbooks are more Vineyardy, even if our cuisine doesn’t measure up to some more cookbook-worthy destinations, like New Orleans. But I think we’re close, I really do. So whether we’re worthy or not, let’s keep cooking.