by Heather Hamacek
Shiretown Meats is a one-stop-shop for any picnic basket or barbecue. They stuff their own sausages, they grind their own hamburger patties, they make their own sauces and soups and salads and subs. Oh, and they can expertly butcher pretty much any meat. The small butcher shop along upper Main street in Edgartown is run by a father and son team, the Vaughans.
David Vaughan opened Shiretown Meats in 1982. He’d been cutting meat his whole life. Native of Middleborough, Mass. he went to meat cutting school (yes, that exists) in Toledo, Ohio, worked for packing houses in the city, worked on a farm cutting chickens, before moving to the Island in 1966 to work at the A&P.
Shiretown Meats began as a straight butcher shop. Over the years, Shiretown has moved locations and added subs to the menu. “Now that’s half our business,” Dave said.
Daniel Vaughan, 42, started working in the shop as a young man. It was his weekend job, and his after school job, and his summer job. Then after a four year stint as a cook aboard a Navy aircraft carrier, Shiretown became his full-time job.
“That was the only way to get help,” Dave joked. “You had to raise them.”
While Dave is the master butcher, Dan keeps the kitchen buzzing. He makes subs at lightning speed, concocts potato and pasta salads, and tackles the two-day process for one of their picnic favorites: baked beans.
His mother, Ann Vaughan, created the recipe for the baked beans in their home kitchen when they first opened Shiretown. At first they were called Ann’s Baked Beans, and she would tote them to the shop from their home every day. Now Ann is retired from the Shiretown kitchen, the beans are just called baked beans, and Dan makes them in the Shiretown kitchen every week.
The recipe is a closely guarded secret. Dave willingly divulges the ingredients to their famous kale soup (recipe shared with him by former Square Rigger owner Anne Donnelly), but will quickly change the subject if asked about the beans.
The beans are a two day affair. It starts with a soak (that much Dan will share) and some navy beans. Cooked in four gallon batches, the beans sit in the oven for several hours, tenderizing and releasing sugars, Dan said.
While chatting, Dan cheekily throws out an ingredient in the beans at random.
“Navy beans,” he said.
Dave chimes in with a joke.
“Don’t tell her about the cream soda,” he said.
What ingredients Dan will share include meaty chunks of their house-made smoked sausage and glugs of their house-made barbecue sauce. The recipe is all in his head.“Nothing’s written down, just in case I get captured by the enemy,” he said with a wry smile.
Bean making is an early morning activity, Dan begins the soak well before he starts the regular prep for the day.
They make at least one giant vat of the beans every week. When the summer season heats up and the picnic season is in full swing, they go through two or three batches a week. “There’s always some on the stove,” Dan said.
After they are cooled, the beans are spooned into plastic containers and sold by the pound. One pre-packaged container is slightly under a pound.
I took a container of beans home with instructions to heat in a pan and to not add anything. I brought the beans as a contribution to brunch at a friends. He had put together an omelette with herbs from his own garden, crispy bacon, cubed potatoes and toasted English muffins with butter and homemade blueberry jam. We heated the beans on the stove in a small pan and divvied them perfectly for two.
Sweet with a kick and slightly tangy, the beans tasted like summer. They were hearty without being heavy. There were large chunks of Shiretown sausage and bits of pepper and onion in them, all coated in a thick red-brown glaze. Once our plates were empty and our bellies full, my friend looked down at the table.
“I think the beans were the best part,” he said.