Portuguese-American Festival Celebrates Vibrant Community

By Elizabeth Bomze

When Jesse Oliver attended his first Portuguese-American festival as a kid in 1963, he must have figured that his lineage would some day dictate his involvement in its future; after all, his grandfather, also Jesse Oliver, was a founding member of the P-A Club. Now, 40 years later, he is a four-year veteran at Anne-Marie Cywinski's grill booth, and he expects his tenure has only just begun.

"I always wanted to help," he said. "When Anne-Marie took over the booth, she asked me to come cook burgers. And I'll probably be here ‘til I'm 80."

Preparations for the two-day festival were well underway as the waning sun glowed against the white tents late Saturday afternoon. Along with Ms. Cywinski and Mr. Oliver, Mark Seward of West Tisbury was firing up the grill, the smell of sizzling hamburgers soon wafting about the club grounds.

"Stick around here - it'll get nice and loud," he said with a grin.

But even before the thousands of festival-goers crowded around the picnic tables, gathering at the foot of the stage to dance and wrapping around the clubhouse in line for bowls of sopa, the annual Feast of the Holy Ghost had begun.

Tricia Bergeron, who has organized the event for the past 14 years, started her preparations several months ago.

"The booths had to be washed and cleaned and painted," she said, as another staff member reminded her that menus needed to be posted.

In the kitchen, meanwhile, Barbara Humber and Lanie Bonito were manning the sopa station. A bucket of mint leaves sat in the middle of the table, waiting to garnish the hearty soup of linguica, chorizo, beef, potatoes, kale and cabbage.

"We started making the soup early on Friday morning," Ms. Bonito said, presiding over two rectangular vats of broth, bubbling with meat and vegetables. "We chopped the veggies and cut the meat, with help from the older members of the club. The recipe is handed down from them. It all takes about five hours."

Kay Manning and Betty Smith, who were collecting tickets outside the kitchen, had lent their hands to the kettle that morning.

"I was into potatoes," Ms. Manning said. "Fifty-pound bags. And then there were 14 crates of corn and 14 crates of cabbage. But it was a fun group. Everyone sits together."

Looking over to Melanie daRosa, who was patting out discs of dough on a board to make malasadas, Ms. Smith grinned sheepishly. "The fried dough - that's our downfall. It's so good." Ms. daRosa added lemon juice to temper the sweetness of the sticky batter.

"Some people use anise," she said. "But there are [always] lots of eggs and flour. Then it sits overnight until it's nice and cold. And then, you float it in oil until it's nice and golden."

While none of the ladies are of Portuguese descent, they have worked at the festival long enough to earn them honorary heritage.

"You volunteer once and that's it," Ms. Humber said.

John Powers, keeping close watch over the sopa, stirred the mixture with a boat oar.

"You take sides of beef, cook that, and then the beef falls off [the bone]," he said.

All assured that both cauldrons of sopa would be drained by the night's end.

"Oh, yes," said Ms. Bonito. And tomorrow we'll make two more."