Clambakes — Who’s Been to One?

Winslow Homer, 1873
Winslow Homer, 1873

Still celebrating the release of Boiled Over, we’re talking about clambakes we might or might not have partaken of.

Liz: I’ve never been to a real clambake. I think I was at a party once where there were clams and mussels cooked (or whatever you call it) outside but I’m not sure it was official. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, being from New England, but I had no idea there was such a thing as the clambake experience Barb’s series is built on until I read Clammed Up. It sounds so amazing!

Edith: My friends Karen and Mike were married in a church, but their reception was on

Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. 1880. From a trade card advertisement, Melville Garden, Hingham, Massachusetts
Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. 1880. From a trade card advertisement, Melville Garden, Hingham, Massachusetts

their own basin beach in Newburyport at low tide nine years ago. And the meal was a clambake of sorts. Except it wasn’t cooked on the spot. And I was having such a bad allergy day that I couldn’t taste a thing. Between the antihistamine I’d taken and the couple of glasses of champagne, I’m surprised I even remember that it was a clambake menu. I’m thinking the Wickeds are going to have to take a road trip to Maine this summer…

Julie: I would love to go to a clambake like the one in the series. I’ve never been to one with that level of detail. I have been to beach clambakes with corn and clams, maybe some fish. There is a place on the Cape that makes a “clambake to go”–lobster, clams, and corn in a netting bag, which makes do when I need a fix. And I have a friend who did a Portuguese clambake, which is clams, potatoes, onions, corn, and clams in layers and all cooked together. Delish.

tetonsSherry: I’ve been to one clambake — in Wyoming. And doesn’t everyone associate clambakes and Wyoming? Some friends of mine decided they could throw one. They dug a hole in the backyard — I’ll bet their neighbors loved that — threw some coals in, followed by the food, covered it and cooked it all day. That evening a group of us gathered. Unfortunately, unlike in Barb’s series, there were no magic eggs to tell them the food was done. The potatoes were like rocks, the clams suspect, and only the corn was somewhat done. Clammed Up taught me the fire is key and I would never attempt to do one at home.

Jessie: I’ve never been to a clambake. The closest experience I ever had was aboard my great-grandparents’ lobster boat when I was four years old. My mother, who never had any luck at all fishing, felt something particularly heavy on her line. When my grandfather hauled it in they found she had hooked an orphaned lobster pot. It was full of lobsters and for the first time ever my mother had the best catch of the day. Grandpa and my father rowed a dinghy to a nearby island and dug clams to go with the lobsters and the whole meal was steamed up in the galley of the boat. I don’t really remember eating any of it but I do remember how pleased everyone was by all the excitement.

Round Pond
Round Pond

Barb: I’d had plenty of clambake meals before I wrote Clammed Up. One of our family’s favorite things to do is to go to the Muscongus Bay Lobster Company in Round Pond, Maine. They serve chowder, lobster, steamers and corn. The view is stupendous and the atmosphere informal and lively as families arrive bearing wine, salads and desserts to add to the meal. However, before I wrote Clammed Up, I’d never been to the Cabbage Island Clambake. Because we live in Boothbay Harbor in the summer, I’d heard of it, of course. And Maine author Lea Wait told me one of her daughters had her wedding reception there. I wrote my proposal in November, got the verbal go ahead in January and signed my contract with Kensington in March. As a result, I had to write the whole first draft before I could go out to Cabbage Island when they opened in June. But I’m glad for that, because it gave free rein to my imagination. When I finally did get out the the island, the Moore family were incredibly generous about answering my many questions.

Edith: Sounds like none of us has been to a real Maine clambake, except for Barb. Barb, when would you like to expect us so we can all go out to Cabbage Island?

Readers: Who has had a good clambake? Or a bad one? Have you even been to Maine?

18 Thoughts

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time in Maine, especially when I was a kid and would visit my grandmother’s sister at Moosehead Lake and the Greenville area where her family had a wild blueberry farm. I know that doesn’t sound right, but as I understood it then… they owned a piece of land where wild blueberries grew. They didn’t cultivate them. They simply harvested them. I think that’s right. Later the family moved to Bangor where one of her children, my cousin Jimmy Bigney became a TV weatherman. I think? He was a little older than I, so I didn’t know him very well. I had fun visiting, though. Maine is great. And Stephen King lives in Bangor. Hey.

    I grew up on real clambakes in Salem and Marblehead, Mass. We walked out to a small, mostly rock, island at low tide and dug a pit to bake the lobsters, clams, and cobs of corn. We layer them with that giant flat seaweed you find on the beach left behind and still wet after the tide is out. We had a great time. Sometimes we didn’t quite beat the tide going back in, but it was fun swimming in with the waves. That’s how we learned to swim. I seem to recall a few times when ice chests were lost with someone’s valuables, but I’m not sure how much of that was local legend that I only think I remember! It has the mark of a Marblehead story upon it.

    I didn’t know it then, but it was an area where a number of my ancestors lived when they settled there. Learning about that recently answered a lot of my questions about why I felt so rooted there, to that particular spot. I was born in Salem and spent many happy summers having clambakes there and in Marblehead. The clambakes we had in Salem were more like backyard cookouts—great fun with all the right food, drinks, and games but not where the cooking was done the traditional way in a hand-dug pit layered with seaweed and carefully timed to the tides and swimming abilities of children present. They are all good ways, but that’s my favorite. When I am able to move back home we will do it again if I can find a legal place to do it. I think that little island is off-limits now… There must be a place!

    1. Yes–that is true about wild blueberries. They are managed but not cultivated.

      A tiny amount of what I’ve written about Morrow Island comes from time spent on Baker’s Island in Marblehead. Also, I have friends there and love the old streets and shops.

      1. Baker’s Island… very nice you were able to spend time there. I’ve never been out that far. I understand Baker’s is private, but it’s been a long time. So many things in your book rings true for me. I love when that happens, and you do it very well! I hope that I will be able to do that, too.

    1. What a lot of fun that must have been! Thanks so much for sharing, Reine. Your personal comments are always so interesting and welcome!

  2. I grew up in Rhode Island and have been to several clam bakes on the beach. I don’t like lobster, but the beer and doom buggy rides were great. Dune lol. We did have clam boils several times each year with clams,onions,potatoes,sweet potatoes,hotdogs,sausage and linguiça (mild Portuguese sausage) and sometimes corn. Yum.
    BTW, I am so glad I stumbled upon your website. I love your blogs and your books. Thank you!!

    1. We’re glad to have you, Caril! Spread the word…
      I love linguiça. And I think doom buggy might be a better description.

    2. Yes, clambakes from the Long Island shore to Nova Scotia offer different mixes of food. While Maine clambakes or lobster bakes always include lobster, that’s not the case for everyone. Clambakes in Portuguese-descended communities often include linguica and even tripe.

      The native Americans may have first taught the European-descended settlers how to do a clambake, but the two traditions then separated. For European-Americans, clambakes came roaring back in the 19th century as a part of a whole movement around nostalgia during the industrial revolution for lost (or allegedly lost–in some cases they may never have existed), simpler ways of life.

      The Native Americans who lived along the shore continued with their own traditions, which became so entrenched it was like a backyard barbecue is to suburbanites.

      I assume the Portuguese-American clambake tradition, which is quite strong, came from living in fishing communities in New York and New England.

      Which makes me wonder, if it’s clambakes from Long Island to Nova Scotia, and crab boils from Delaware to Virginia, what do people in New Jersey do?


  3. The closest I’ve come to Maine is a trip to Vermont.

    As I shared yesterday, I’m not a seafood person, so I haven’t been to a clambake and most likely will never go to one outside of Barbara’s series.

  4. I was lucky enough to be able to drive along the coast up through Maine for a couple of days, absolutely gorgeous, someday I want to go back and spend more time. I have never been to a clambake, I just finished reading Clammed Up yesterday and all I have to say is that I have never craved seafood so badly in my life, LOL. I loved the book and am definitely going to read Boiled Over.

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