Wampanoag Cooking Class

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

ACE MV (Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard) got its start in July of 2008, offering its first classes in October 2008.  The wide variety of classes is a testament to the diversity found on MV, with offerings that run the gamut from basic accounting, to understanding the I Ching, and everything in-between.  Some of the most popular offerings are the cooking courses, where local chefs and cooks get a chance to share their cooking style and outlook with the students.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking Recipe

The class we attended was part of a series co-sponsored by the MV Museum, called Cooking Through Cultures, with each class showcasing cooking traditions that have been influential to Islanders.  This class, taught by Kristina Hook-Leslie, focused on preparing dishes in the Wampanoag tradition, with recipes passed down through the generations by her ancestors.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

Kristina immediately won the class over with her jovial and no-nonsense style, welcoming us as she explained the dishes we were about to prepare.  The first dish we worked on was a traditional venison stew, with the many of the same simple ingredients that would’ve been available to residents of the Vineyard a thousand years ago.  The class split into two groups, with everyone assuming a role they felt comfortable with, whether it was slicing up venison loins or chopping carrots.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

We started out by rendering down diced salt pork, and browning the chucks of venison in the resultant fat.  Between anecdotes about her childhood, (including the arrival of electricity to Aquinnah in 1953) Kristina provided instructions, explaining that she doesn’t usually use recipes, cooking instead by feel and memory.  After the meat was browned, we were instructed to add the aromatic ingredients (garlic, celery and onions) along with salt and pepper.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

While the meat was cooking, our instructor shared memories of foraging for ingredients with members of her family, describing the many different plants that were available on the Vineyard during her childhood.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

After the meat had cooked a bit, Kristina had the class layer the carrots, parsnips, potatoes and squash into the pot before adding a dose of vegetable broth, and set aside to simmer while we started on our next task.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

Similar to “jonnycakes”, these Journey cakes could be described as the “energy bar” of their day.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

Full of nutrients and very portable, people would take them along when they had to make a long journey, such as walking from Aquinnah to one of the down-island towns, whether for supplies, or just to visit family and friends.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

Once again, the recipe was quite simple, just corn meal, butter, dried cranberries, water and seasonings.  Leslie said that while she usually makes the cakes without sugar, they can easily be adjusted to suite one’s personal taste.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

The ingredients were thoroughly mixed together, pressed into a pan, and slid into the oven to bake.  In the meantime, Ms. Hook-Leslie answered questions from the participants and talked a bit more about Wampanoag traditions.  After baking for about 20 minutes, the cakes were done and the stew’s aroma was starting to fill the room.

Hungry Native Martha's Vineyard Food Blog Venison Stew Journey Cake ACE MV Wampanoag Cooking

A quick addition of roughly chopped parsley finished the stew, and we all sat down to enjoy the meal and swap a few stories.  Everyone in the class went home with a better understanding of traditional Vineyard cooking, as well as container of leftovers.

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