Island Roots

Food is a Family afFair

by Remy Tumin

This is a story that begins in summer. Every year farmers, bakers and artists arrive at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair with their goods to be judged. They hand them off beaming with pride to volunteer runners who set them up in their respective categories in the main hall, and wait until judging concludes.

But not Chris Fischer’s grandfather Poppy.

“When he took his products down to the fair with him, he wouldn’t let the runners take them inside the hall because he didn’t trust them, he thought something would get broken,” Fischer recalls. “So they’d pull the rope back just for him.”

Ozzie (Poppy) and Regina Fischer purchased Beetlebung Farm in 1961, located in the center of Chilmark just across from the town hall and community center and down the road from the Chilmark Store and post office. The family homestead quickly became the centerpiece of the Fischer family as Ozzie farmed the surrounding acres and Regina set up a hairdressing shop in a converted chicken coop.

Now in an ode to his family and community, the Island-born farmer chronicles a year on his family’s farm in The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook. As a twelfth generation Islander, and Ozzie’s grandson, Fischer reveals a tremendous amount of pride and responsibility in carrying on the traditions of the past while defining his own path.

Fischer, 36, grew up in Chilmark. He left the Vineyard to cook around the world and returned to the farm at Beetlebung Corner. He later wrote a regular food column for the Vineyard Gazette, exploring the Island through the lens of the bounty around him. Cooking for friends on the farm and later at the Beach Plum Inn, he began to find his footing. No matter the medium, he returned to a sense of place through his writing, cooking and farming.

The cookbook is divided into five sections, beginning with Secret Summer of those warm September days and ending with, of course, the Fair. Each chapter is inspired by the seasons and their respective ingredients.

Fair food, for example, is a “quintessential Martha’s Vineyard” experience, he says, and gives a new take on his ultimate fair food: pulled pork, fried squid and onions, fish tostadas, corn on the cob, and blackberry pie.