By Barbara Fernald
“Do you have any interest in this food from my refrigerator?” It’s a common question for those of us who live here, or haven’t left for the season yet. The answer to that depends.
Most late season offerings are very usable and sometimes a real treat. There is always a chance that something the giver disdains would be happily used in another kitchen. Capers, for example. Those things last for months in the fridge, but are not to everyone’s taste. There is also a chance of getting things just past their prime, foods you might think twice about using if you wait longer than 2 more days. “I thought maybe you would like to cook with this milk?”
I have no way of knowing, but I would predict that more food gets left behind on our islands at the end of summer than in mainland communities. It’s a bit of a haul to get groceries here on the mail boat, and an easy choice to leave leftovers to a neighbor rather than carry them back for a second trip across the water.
September and October can be a gustatorial grab bag in the Cranberry Isles. Mayo, mustard, and ketchup are in almost every bag of giveaways, followed by pickles and jams. Things can get pretty interesting after that with a variety of cheeses, meats, and maybe something you’ve never even heard of. Frozen foods are a special bonus because the receiver didn’t have to carry an extra cooler and ice packs on the boat to get it here.
On a recent ferry ride I was talking about the distribution of leftover food with my friend, Sam (Susan Deborah) King, from Great Cranberry. Her poem, “Summer Sausage,” tells the tale of a less than desirable remnant. It is one of my favorites from her book, Tabernacle, Poems of an Island, published in 2001 by the Island Institute. She gave me her permission to reprint it in this column.
We laughed about the fact that she is one of the last of her summer friends to leave, and thus the recipient of many leftovers.
“I can just feel the food out there, circling,” she said.
Receiving food upon the closing of a house can be really good or really bad or anywhere in between. The one constant is that it always makes for a fun conversation, later, on the boat.
“Summer Sausage” by Susan Deborah King
As they leave, the summer people pass it on,
pass it off, pass it over. Originally a gift
from an overstaying houseguest,
a thoughtless one for a Jewish host,
who, though non-practicing, turned up his nose.
He made of it a hostess gift to a gentile neighbor,
thought it might be quite a hit with its giftish wrap
and claim of an “Old World Milwaukee Tradition.”
Unbeknownst to him, the price left on
didn’t quite match the claim in grandness.
The receiver was trying her best to
cut down on fat, so drew back
when he handed it to her. Besides
since she was recently divorced,
he widowed, it felt so blatantly sexual,
though that was never his intent.
There are times when a sausage is just a sausage,
but it turned her off. She was stymied.
She couldn’t take it to the next party,
to which her neighbor was also invited.
(On islands social circles are so tight.)
She put it in the fridge and forgot about it
till she had to clean and close up for the winter.
She tucked it in a bag with other remnants,
considering it quite a prize among carrots
on the verge of sliming and milk just short of sour,
for her friend down the lane who was staying longer.
Some friend, the giftee thought. Doesn’t she
remember? I choked and almost died on a piece of
sausage just like that this last November!
When she left, she gave it to her caretaker,
who had no taste for that fancy, fandangled deli stuff.
Give him straight kielbasa or sweet Italian.
So he took it to the mainland of a Sunday,
a present for his mother. She was wise.
By now it looked so handled,
cloudy plastic, curling label. She knew
he hadn’t got it for her special. Besides
if he really cared, he’d know there’s too much
salt in food like that for her high blood pressure.
So she tore the wrapper and chucked it
on the compost where the gulls raised a
fabulous ruckus for a chance to peck at it and devour.
Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).