By the middle of May, Martha Greenlaw and her husband Jim have packed up their winter place in Florida and come back to Isle Au Haut. For Martha, preparing for summer means making sure the kitchen is ship-shape. There’ll be a steady stream of guests who take the hour-long trip on the mailboat from Stonington to Duck Harbor, not only to enjoy Isle Au Haut’s idyllic scenery, but also to relish a meal at the Greenlaws.
“We don’t have a lot of places for fine dining, so we can end up with quite a contingent here,” says Martha, whose daughter, Linda, is the famous swordfish captain, author of four books about her fishing adventures, and co-author of two cookbooks written with her mom.
If the cookbooks are an indication, summer dining at the Greenlaw compound (where Linda, her brother Chuck and sister Biffy also own homes) is a culinary delight. In the pages of their most recent book, “The Maine Summers Cookbook,” Linda and Martha concoct such island-inspired specialties as blackened swordfish with blueberry chutney, oven-roasted summer squash, and homemade cinnamon-blueberry ice cream. The book, which came out last summer, is full of photos and descriptions of island life that give it a coffee-table-book appeal.
Writing a mother-daughter cookbook was the idea of Linda’s editor, who was visiting for a few days to help put the finishing touches on one of Linda’s books. Martha served them her signature lobster casserole, an easy, less messy way to enjoy a Maine lobster.
“He absolutely loved it,” Martha recalls. “He said we should do a cookbook.”
Linda says her mom was against the idea at first. Martha says she was actually “scared to death” that her disorganized filing system – with recipes stuffed under mattresses and between the pages of books on shelves – would be exposed. She also considered her time in the kitchen her private time. But Linda didn’t give up. She persuaded her mom to at least think about it. Then one day, Linda called her mom and said, “You know, you can make some money doing this.”
“That sounded good,” Martha says with a laugh.
Luckily, Linda is the one person Martha has always allowed into the kingdom that is her kitchen.
“We work very well together,” Martha says.
Linda describes it as a collaboration, but only because she is quite aware that mom’s “the boss” in the kitchen.
“If we’re organizing a dinner, she tells you, ‘This is what you’re doing. Period,’” Linda explains.
Martha’s love of cooking was spawned in her mother’s kitchen, in the farmhouse where she grew up in Winslow. Linda, however, was your classic “tomboy,” who spent her growing-up years hunting and fishing with her father. She started commercial fishing when she graduated from high school and spent every summer during college on a fishing boat to help pay for her education. There wasn’t much time for cooking, but Linda does remember having a fondness for her mom’s meals.
“I never wanted to go to anyone else’s house for dinner because I knew whatever we were having at home would be better,” Linda says. “I’d take leftovers to school for lunch and they would be part of the class show-and-tell.”
Martha had hoped that when Linda graduated from Colby College with a degree in English that she’d go on to law school.
“At least that was my plan,” Martha says.
She was totally against her daughter becoming a fisherman, particularly a swordfish captain who spent months at a time at sea. During the “perfect storm” of 1991, in which the Andrea Gail was lost at sea and Linda’s boat, the Hannah Boden, rode out the storm offshore for several days, Martha says she was sick with worry. She talked every day to the boat’s owner to make sure Linda had made it through another day.
“She’s had some adventures, to say the least,” says Martha.
The natural cycles of fishing provided time in the winter for Linda and Martha to work on their cookbooks. Linda says they first came up with lists of recipes and submitted them to her editor before they embarked upon the trial-and-error process of testing recipes and making decisions about what worked best.
“I’m sure we had disagreements and I’m sure she won,” says Linda.
While Martha took the lead in the kitchen, Linda took center stage on their book tours. Martha admits she had stage fright.
“It was hard to get up in front of all those people. She’d try to engage me in conversation but I couldn’t talk at all,” recalls Martha. “It’s a wonder we’re still speaking.”
Martha says that since the latest cookbook came out, Linda – and her brother Chuck – are doing more of the cooking during the summer months. Her 10-year-old grandson also has turned into quite the cook. At 78, Martha says she’s begun to enjoy having someone wait on her.
Linda says that might be true as far as the cooking goes, but when it comes to dinner parties or big events, it’s pretty clear who’s still in charge.
“She’s passed the baton to us,” says Linda. “We take turns having dinner at mom’s house, at my house, and at my brother’s. But she’s still the captain of her kitchen – and she still tries to boss me around in my own kitchen!”