Island Cooking

Food for the Psyche

by Chef Jenn Farmer

Autumn is my favorite time of year, that being said, I always get a little depressed early in September. I know it seems as if I am contradicting myself, but it is true. I have several theories why this happens every year, and they seem to change depending on the day. There is one constant. The constant is what makes me feel better, fast. Gathering and harvesting and just spending time in nature. The smell of the earth is the first restorative to my spirit. Whether it is warm and sunbaked or damp and cool, the mineral scent of the soil speaks to me, filling me with a nostalgia I cannot describe. The next step toward patching up my psyche; is to see and feel and enjoy the scent of the plants. If you have ever been in a field or garden on a warm day when everything is ripe, you will know what I am talking about. The plants give off an aroma that cleanses my mental palate. Can you visualize the lush foliage, heavy with its warm, fragrant bounty? Tomatoes are the first crop that comes to mind, there is nothing that smells like a tomato plant, and when the ripe fruit combines with foliage, it is a force to be reckoned with in my world. Of course collecting the crops is the next step in curing my woes. For example young zucchini has a very soft nearly velvety feel when it is first gathered, something that cannot be found at the store or even at the farmer’s market; it is a quality that is lost almost immediately. The final salve for my weary spirit is, of course, eating the harvest. Whether snacking on peas or beach plums while picking them, or cooking up some beets and baby potatoes right away, the epitome of freshness and flavor washes over me. I can feel the positive impact of the vitamins and minerals, newly gleaned from    the soil. It is enough to cure any dark feelings that ail me.

This year I did not have a real garden, just a few pots with some of my favorites. When I felt down this time, I began foraging, which by the way, is surprisingly bountiful here. A few of my favorites this year are wild onions, beach plums, blackberries, and soon there will be wild grapes. For the more experienced gatherer, Nantucket is very bountiful, but alas that should be a book, not a quick column. Even though I love foraging and try to do it often, I forget how plentiful the sea and land here are. Some may think I am crazy, but I would love to spend a year living off the land and ocean on Nantucket. It would be a lot of work, but I think it would be possible and very fulfilling.

I also find preserving the harvest very satisfying. Canning and dehydrating are my favorite methods, but freezing can be a great savior when time is a consideration. For example a bumper crop of beach plums can be made into juice, and that can be frozen until you are ready to make jelly if you are particularly busy. Here are a few of my favorite harvest season recipes, enjoy. For all you bakers, the up-coming column is for you, I will include my wild grape sourdough starter recipe, and how to make bread from it. Until then, enjoy the season and happy harvesting.


  • 3 cups beach plums, pitted
  • Up to one half cup water
  • 1 cup sugar, 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • One half teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • One half teaspoon ground allspice

Put the plums in a blender, adding water slowly as needed to create a puree. Place all the ingredients into a sauce pan and cook slow and low for about 30 minutes. If it is ready it will look thick and somewhat clear. Pour into hot sterilized jars, and process in boiling water for ten minutes if you are canning it. Otherwise use immediately and refrigerate the remaining butter. It keeps well for about 2 weeks. Yields 2 half-pints.


Surprisingly some friends of mine have fruitful fig trees here this year, not exactly what one expects in Nantucket, but very good. Plus I find other cherry tomatoes, or just about any other sweet, succulent fruit goes nicely in this salad, if one does not have figs.

  • 4 cups mixed young greens or arugula, cleaned
  • 2- 4 cooked beets, medium diced
  • 6-8 fresh figs, halved (grilled and still warm is exceptional)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, or mild blue cheese, crumbled
  • 6-8 slices thinly sliced prosciutto (hand torn into bite sized pieces)
  • 2-3 tablespoons balsamic, or other flavorful vinegar
  • One half teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tender herbs (chives, chervil, tarragon, parsley, basil, mint are all acceptable, mixed or individual)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • One quarter cup pecans
  • One teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Nutmeg freshly grated (tiny amount –pinch)

First begin by making the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, and fresh herbs. Set aside. Next, melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the pecans, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the pan and toast the nuts, for a few minutes. Set aside. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, and divide into four bowls, or serving plates. Cut the figs into quarters if they are large, and artfully arrange them, along with the beets, goat cheese, nuts and prosciutto on each salad (it is ok if the nuts and figs are still warm, it makes the cheese a little bit melted and even more delicious). Serves 4


  • One quarter cup corn or olive oil
  • One quarter cup onion, small diced
  • One sweet red bell pepper, seeded and small diced
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • One teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped fine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • one quarter teaspoon ground clove
  • one teaspoon good quality paprika
  • 2 cups corn kernels (freshly cut off cob is best)
  • 2 cups pumpkin or squash, peeled, large diced
  • 2 cups tomato, medium diced (reserve juice from cutting board)
  • 3 cup vegetable broth (chicken broth is ok, but the flavors of the veg shine with vegetable broth)
  • 3 cups black beans, cooked & rinsed (canned is ok, rinse well though)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds (optional
  • Grilled jalapenos or diced green chilies (optional)
  • 4-8 sprigs of cilantro(optional)

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan until hot, add the red pepper, onion, and cumin, and heat until the seeds become aromatic. Add the garlic, oregano, and other spices and sauté for about fifteen seconds. Add the corn, squash, tomatoes (with juice), and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the squash is nearly tender. Add the beans and simmer for 5-10 minutes (add water if it seems to be evaporating out quickly). Season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds, a grilled jalapeno, and a sprig of cilantro. Eat with fresh tortillas and queso fresco for a heartier meal. Serves 4- 6

Articles by Date from 2012