I was in the States a few weeks ago with Ryan and his family, staying outside Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard for the third time. As well as being incredibly beautiful, Martha’s Vineyard is also a very interesting, complex, many layered place, and always it stays on my mind for months after I’ve been.
Although it only spans about 20 miles, the island has 4 reasonably big towns and a handful of large villages, all of which are remarkably different from each other. It has a hospital and a school (a couple of schools?) and a busy bus service, but many of its properties are occupied for only a couple of weeks a year by holidaymakers, creating a palpable divide between its year-round residents (most of whom live ‘up-island’) and those who come for a few weeks each summer (- as the joke famously goes, ‘summer people, and some aren’t’).
Despite this strange duality (or perhaps because of it), the island is sort of ageless – although its shops, trends & food scene are cutting edge, the overall ambience could be straight from any decade from the 30s to the 50s to the 90s to now.
It doesn’t have many branded shops; it’s incredibly safe and the towns are carefully zoned to maintain their old charms. It’s white clapboard houses and hydrangeas and biplanes and polished wood yachts and American flags and help-yourself farm stands and sweet, heaving diners. It’s stoic, gorgeous families on the beach, bundled up in jumpers & towels on grey days. It’s a place where pretty much every child takes part in the 4th of July parade. It’s old white Chevrolets being passed down through the generations along with the properties as island cars. It’s old money, it’s new money, it’s Kennedy town. It feels like it hasn’t changed much, as if there hasn’t been much need, because everything was so nice to begin with.
This timeless, classic quality carries through to the food too – both the newest restaurants and the old island favourites all feature the same sort of food – clam chowders, all-day sandwiches, fried chicken & seafood, stuffed quahogs, grilled whole lobster & luscious buttered lobster rolls, bluefish, salad greens from the island, seasonal ingredients like peaches, tomatoes or blueberries, ice cream sandwiches, coffee cakes, muffins, pancakes, scones; maybe with a new riff, maybe not. There is a uniformity there, a series of the same regionalised motifs, which makes the food on Martha’s Vineyard feel almost like its own cuisine; its own thing.
One example of this is the way that anytime you order anything blueberry flavoured on the island – be it a muffin, scone [they seem to eat even more scones than we do], a stack of pancakes or crumb cake – it will always arrive cheeringly, thrillingly splodged with fat, sweet, juicy fresh blueberries. These feel like an enormous treat every single time when you’re more used to fake dried out & artificial flavoured blueberries, as we are in Ireland. Try the scones below and be converted.
AMERICAN-STYLE BLUEBERRY & BUTTERMILK SCONES
These aren’t quite scones as we know them, as they’re slimmer and crumblier. More like soft, fluffy biscuits, which, coincidentally, is what Americans call our scones…
The secret to making them light and lovely is to handle the mixture as little as possible.
Makes around 8
2 cups of self-raising flour plus extra to dredge
115g cold butter, cut into small cubes
3tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat your oven to 180°c and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment. Stir together the flour & sugar. Cut in the butter and then rub it in lightly with your fingers, lifting the mix into the air slightly as you do. Stir in the blueberries. Whisk the buttermilk, egg & vanilla extract together in a jug and then pour over the flour blueberry mix. Stir together very lightly with a fork until it has only just come together – it will probably be a wetter mix than you’re used to. If the mixture seems too dry add a splash more buttermilk. Flour a work surface and tip the mix out onto it. Bring it together lightly into a large round, patting it into a circle that’s about an inch thick (I rolled mine out a little too thinly as I was determined to use my new star shaped cookie cutter). Cut into wedges, brush with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for around 22 mins, or until golden brown and nicely baked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool or serve warm from the oven with butter & jam and enjoy immediately.