In all likelihood, Kirstie Alley was the only hostess in Dark Harbor who had a container in her kitchen of silicone worms, spiders, centipedes, and creepy crawlers with which she or her cooks could garnish platters of food. We sprinkled them in salads, and they crawled along the edges of guests’ food trays. After all, she was a comedian and she enjoyed her guests reactions.
After she and Parker Stevenson bought the old Islesboro Inn, she set about renovating and redecorating, and the kitchen and a butler’s pantry next to it got lots of attention. Two big gas stoves, one of them high enough that she, a tall woman, could comfortably cook at, and an island, also fairly high, were in the center of the kitchen. Sink, counter, dishwasher under windows overlooking Gilkey Harbor, and cupboards against the opposite wall, stuffed full of baking pans and dishes, sometimes proportioned for what seemed to be institutional cooking. More pots and pans dangled from a rack from the ceiling.
A beautiful old wooden refrigerator, formerly an icebox, was always stuffed full of food. The backdoor to the kitchen, was, or at least seemed to be, the house’s main entrance because everyone came and left from it despite a grand front door.
The whole experience was absolutely terrifying and too much fun.
The butler’s pantry held a marvel of dishes and glasses. Kirstie loved dishes and table linens and having company to enjoy them.
Her first event was an elegant tea party to which she invited the Grande Dames of Dark Harbor, plus a whole group of ladies closer to her in age and origin, whom she met exploring the island. On the advice of her caretaker, she recruited my best gal pal Bonnie and me to prepare food for the tea.
Hundreds of lemon curd tartlets, jelly tarts trimmed with tiny pastry grape leaves; little heart-shaped sandwiches garnished with Johnny Jump Up flowers; cucumber sandwiches with crisscrossed chive bits and a sprig of dill. There was chocolate cake and a lemon one topped with pansy blossoms.
Kirstie’s cookie cutter collection included a pineapple shaped one with which we made cookies, decorated with diagonal strips in pale orange frosting with miniscule dots of yellow in the diamond shaped spaces, and jauntily topped off with green icing fronds.
The last hour of preparation found five or more of us in the kitchen arranging and garnishing. Approximate ratio of preparation to consumption time? Staggering. The whole experience was absolutely terrifying and too much fun.
For about four or five more seasons, I prepared Sunday brunches with lots of quiches, fried bacon, sausage, fruit salads, and, when her dad visited from Missouri, Amish-made dried chipped beef on toast, good old “Shit on a Shingle” which he liked very much.
Like most Dark Harbor hosts, Kirstie’s guest list fluctuated between Saturday afternoon and Sunday serving times, introducing an element of surprise while I labored at the tall island standing on a small stool to compensate for my height.
Kirstie adored the older summer ladies, especially honoring the great interior decorator Sister Parish by using her design principles. At the same time, Kirstie was quite democratic in her hospitality. When her house renovations were done, she threw a huge party for everyone who worked on it.
Other parties followed, often staged outdoors. I baked an awful lot of coconut cakes in those days using a recipe I found from the 1880s that she loved, multiplying the recipe to make them large enough for her gatherings. She ordered tamales from California and sent her caretaker off on extended hunts to the mainland for Hebrew American frankfurters. Chafing dishes of food formed a buffet line on her driveway. Beer and wine floated it all.
Once, David Crosby was a houseguest and Kirstie threw a party for islanders while he was here. Of course, he perched on a stool at the kitchen island, and visited with everyone flowing through while I nervously made Spanish rice for the first time in my life from a recipe in The Joy of Cooking. He was an affable guy and later that night he and Kirstie sang on her front steps to a crowd of islanders who joined in on the chorus.
My possibly-unreliable memory says they sang “Teach Your Children,” but maybe that was at another Kirstie bash. Doesn’t matter, late at night, outdoors under stars, dead-tired, and surrounded by neighbors and friends, choked up and a little weepy, I thought, what amazing memories Kirstie makes for us all.
Sandy Oliver is a food historian who gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro. She may be reached at SandyOliver47@gmail.com.