Dinner at the Davis House

Breaking bread at a home with a very, very long and storied history.

Allen Whiting still lives in the Davis House where he and his sister, Prudy Whiting, and brother, Danny Whiting, were born. Allen and his wife Lynne live in the iconic West Tisbury landmark, which doubles as a gallery for Allen’s paintings in the summer. I joined Allen and Lynne in the kitchen of the Davis House as they were getting organized for the arrival of their nephew, Davis Solon, Prudy’s son, and his wife Gina for an off-season dinner.

The Whiting family are one of the oldest Island families, coming to Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600s. Their family history is vast on the Island, but we are going to start at Whiting’s Farm in West Tisbury, a few centuries after their arrival on-Island.

This forever-picturesque farm has been in the family since the mid-1800s when Henry Laurens  Whiting retired from an esteemed cartographer career with the U.S. Geodetic Survey. Henry and his wife Anna Francis had three children: Johnson, Georgiana, and Virginia Whiting. Virginia left the Island, and Johnson stayed on the farm and married Emma Mayhew and had four sons — John, Everett, and two others that did not survive. Johnson and Emma raised John and Everett in the farmhouse, also known as “The Old Parsonage.”

The Whiting farm sheep huddle by the barn. —Elizabeth Cecil

“Johnson was a talented horseman and the farm was pretty fancy at that time,” Allen says. “He hosted horse races on a mile-long track he created out in the field.”

Georgiana met a young man named Everett Allen Davis from Rhode Island, who was on Martha’s Vineyard to attend Dukes County Academy, a school located in a part of the building that now houses Allen Whiting’s art studio. Everett Allen Davis left the Island to continue his education and later returned and married Georgiana. 

Henry Whiting gifted Georgiana and Everett Allen Davis land where Everett Allen Davis built the West Tisbury landmark known today as the Davis House. Everett Allen eventually became a judge at the Dukes County Courthouse. Sadly, the couple could not bear children but were like godparents to nephews Everett and John Whiting.

John Whiting, the eldest son of Henry and Anna, set off for college at Yale, eventually earning a doctorate in sociology and anthropology. He became a faculty member at Yale and eventually at Harvard. The Island, always his home, became a summer retreat as he set up camp on the Chilmark side of the Tisbury Great Pond.

Years later, younger brother Everett followed John to Yale, completing almost a year at university, then returning to his home and farm.  

The table is set at the Davis House. —Elizabeth Cecil

“My father was very intelligent, I was always proud of that,” Allen says. “He was the guy to go to if you needed help.” 

Georgiana and Everett Allen left the Davis House to Everett Whiting when they died, and he and his wife Jane Mayhew Whiting’s three children — Danny, Allen, and Prudy — were born there. Years later the family moved into the Old Parsonage to live for quite some time. In 1970, Jane Whiting died and Everett eventually remarried and lived with his wife, Nancy Hodgson Whiting, in the Old Parsonage until he died suddenly in 1981 at 66 years old. His death was a shock to the family.

“The farm was a great place to grow up for Prudy, Danny, and me,” Allen mused. “Our father never told us we had to stay and keep the farm and continue the tradition, but somehow we knew we did and we wanted to.”

Allen did go away to boarding school when he was high-school age and to Miami for college, transferring and graduating from Windham College in Vermont. Eventually, the farm and his family called him back.

Allen and Lynne met back in 1976 when Lynne, who is from Salt lake City, was working at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury.

“When I came in after Allen’s show was hung, I was amazed at these beautiful soothing green landscapes. I thought the artist must be old and comfortable with himself. I thought Allen’s father Everett must be the artist.”

When she did see Allen, who at the time had a 3-year-old son, Willie Whiting, from a previous marriage, she was surprised the artist was so young. 

At the time Allen and Lynne met, brothers Allen and Danny — who were both single at the time — referred to their living situation in the Davis House as “On the Rocks.”

The Davis House has had many lives, with someone occupying it ever since it was built. At one point it was an art gallery where artist Kib Bramhall exhibited his work. Allen found this inspiring, and it gave him the idea that he could be an artist too. 

Allen Whiting’s paintings fill the walls at the Davis House. —Elizabeth Cecil

Early in their relationship, Allen and Lynne lived in what is known as “the chicken coop,” located next door to the Davis House. The Hot Tin Roof live music venue rented the main house for performers such as Bonnie Raitt, Peter Tosh, James Montgomery, Delbert McClinton, and others back in the day. The Davis House was a social hub over the years, but the house has always been a family gathering spot as well.

Lynne and Allen were married by the late John Alley in 1978 in the Davis House. “John didn’t wear his top hat!“ Lynne laughed.

“I’ve never been lonely in this house; we have always felt taken care of in this house,” Lynne adds. “Whatever we needed, showed up.”

Allen and Lynne raised their own two children, Beatrice and Everett, at the farmhouse. Everett and Davis Solon, Prudy’s son and Allen and Lynne’s nephew, grew up thick as thieves like brothers on the farm, and it continued to be an idyllic place to grow up for generations.

Today, Allen and Lynne enjoy the house filled with grandchildren Asa, Nora, and Prudence, and of course, more family and great gatherings. Before becoming grandparents, Allen and Lynne got to practice grandparenting as great-aunt and uncle to Davis and Gina’s daughter, Isla Jane.

“The farm is in the best shape in forty years,” Allen says. Though this is a not-for-profit farm, they have no debt on the property and the land is locked up in conservation, which Allen, Danny, and Prudy did after their father Everett died with no will or plan in place. The farm will always stay a farm and never be developed.

Allen, an esteemed painter as well as a farmer, spoke about the responsibility of keeping the fields open for the enjoyment of those driving by to soak in the timeless landscape and the open fields where the sheep graze. The colors change daily on the property, according to the light of the season. He feels that is as important as raising sheep to maintain the farm.

These days, Allen, Prudy, and Danny keep it simple, raising only Cheviot sheep, a white-faced breed still thriving in the United Kingdom. Allen says they are not a pure breed, but close enough. Also roaming the farm are some chickens handy for fresh eggs. The newest addition to the family is Allen and Lynne’s ridiculously cute puppy, Tess. Prudy Whiting lives next door in an old converted barn on the over 56-acre farm that lies in the center of old West Tisbury. Gina and Davis Solon, and Willie, Everett, and Bea Whiting all have property on the back side of the original farm.

The low winter sun is dancing through the window as Gina and Davis arrive for a small family dinner. 

“Gina is kind of an old spirit, and she is one of the best additions to the family,” Lynne gushes.

The two bond over gatherings, food, holidays, and family. They are planners and like to “get stuff done.”

Gina brings a roasted leg of lamb from the farm, and Allen lights up as she walks through the kitchen door engulfed in delicious aromas from the roasting pan.

Lynne sauteing the fresh chard. —Elizabeth Cecil

Lynne has harvested late-season oversized colorful chard from her garden out back and rinses and slices it. She adds olive oil and five cloves of chopped garlic to her saute pan and cooks it up, finishing the chard with a light splash of red wine vinegar. 

Along with the leg of lamb, Gina also brings smashed roasted red potatoes doused in olive oil that also smell and look incredible.

Allen loves lamb, especially his own lamb, but It is something Lynne has never cared for.

“I gave a lamb chop to Lynne once, that was the only time,” Allen laughs. “Years ago we used to attend potlucks, and though I always heard that everyone didn’t eat meat, we would show up with a roasted leg of lamb from the farm, and I can say all that was left was the shiny bone.”

Lynne happily goes with the flow and eats the delicious vegetables she and Gina prepared, and she’s happy to catch up with Gina and Davis in this old, very special house on the farm. If these walls could talk.

Allen and Gina enjoying dinner together. —Elizabeth Cecil

Roasted Smashed Baby Potatoes

1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed clean
3-4 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 heaping Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
Gina’s smashed red potatoes. —Elizabeth Cecil

Preheat oven to 400°   

Fill a large pot with water and add a generous sprinkle of salt. Add potatoes and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat to low and simmer for approximately 9 to 12 minutes — this will depend on the size of your potatoes. Once a fork can easily pierce all the way through they are done. 

While the potatoes are cooking, in a small bowl add olive oil, garlic, thyme, and a few pinches of salt. Mix with a spoon and set aside.

Remove the potatoes from heat and drain. 

Coat a large baking sheet with a few glugs of olive oil, add the potatoes and roll them around to coat. Carefully, when cool enough, press each one down until they are about an inch or so thick. I use the bottom of a glass jar or a meat tenderizer to do this.

Spoon garlic mixture onto potatoes, top with a few grinds of pepper and place them in the oven.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, finishing with 2 to 4 minutes on broil, until very golden. 

Roasted Whiting Farm Leg of Lamb

Gina’s roasted leg of lamb. —Elizabeth Cecil
1 four-pound leg of lamb
2 medium yellow onions, sliced lengthwise
5 or 6 shallots, sliced lengthwise
1 small bunch of thyme
3-4 sprigs of rosemary
1-2 sprigs of marjoram
1/4 cup olive oil 
2 cups red wine (pinot noir is a nice choice)
4-5 cups beef stock
Salt and pepper
3-4 Tbsp. chopped parsley
3 Tbsp. safflower oil (or any high-heat oil you have on hand)

Preheat the oven to 425°

Rinse the lamb and pat dry. Coat generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast-iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the safflower oil and carefully place the lamb into the pan. Sear until very brown and shimmery. Flip and repeat. 

Turn off heat. Add the olive oil, onions, shallots, herbs, wine, and stock. 

Top with lid and place in the oven. After about 20 minutes or so, reduce the temperature to 325° and cook for about 3 hours more, checking occasionally to see if you need to add any more liquid. 

Remove from the oven and let rest for about 20 minutes, and remove herb sticks. Slice and arrange on a platter with onions and jus. Top with chopped parsley. 

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