Saturday, September 29, 2012

The New England Clambake (Cooked on the Beach) - A Grand Tradition!

Today -
Traditional Beach Side
New England Clambakes
are Few and Far Between!
(A photo essay by Jack A. Atkinson & friends) 

This month my family was lucky enough to attend a classic New England Clambake, organized by Forest Lowry and his cousin Dan Clark, on their private beach in Connecticut. It was orchestrated to celebrate a fabulous late summer wedding.

The New England clambake is an old and traditional method of cooking lobster and quahogs (hard clams), supplemented by sausages, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. Traditional clambakes are usually held on festive occasions in New Englandin communities along the coastline.

The harvested seaweed.

A typical clambake begins with gathering seaweed at the shoreline and placed in a tarp; the seaweed is an important part to steaming this food. To keep the seaweed fresh, it is necessary to have some containers to re-wet the seaweed with sea water before placing in the pit.

A huge amount of wood is needed to build the fire.

With stones in place the wood is placed over them in the pit.

Forest Lowry (with shovels) knows the process, does the hard work and
creates the magic of this New England Clambake!

Once the stones and seaweed have been collected, a fire pit is prepared in the sand, then lined with the stones. A wood fire is started in the pit, on top of the stones.

Tools of the trade for a New England Clambake.
This fire must burn until it becomes only embers and ash and the stones are glowing hot. The ashes are usually raked between the stones to form an insulating "bed" and a layer of wet seaweed is placed over the stones, followed by the food: clams; corn; potatoes; sausage; and lobsters. The whole meal is cooked at the same time. 

Wet seaweed is placed over the hot stones and coals.

The food is carefully placed in the pit.

The last of the lobsters are placed on the seaweed. It took 125 lobsters to fill this pit.

To help with the steaming, another layer of seaweed is placed on top of the food and the entire mound is covered with wet canvas, that has been drenched in sea water to seal in the heat. 

Covering the food with seaweed.

Lastly, as in all methods of steaming, a cover is necessary to trap the heat and steam inside, to thoroughly cook the food. Canvas tarps, soaked in sea water, are used for this purpose. More tarps are placed on top and the edges are sealed with sand. 

The tarps are placed over the steaming, hot pit.

The "clambake" is allowed to cook (steam) for one to two hours, a timeframe known from intuition and guarded over by the pit master.

It's now dark, and
time to collect the reward.

Dan Clark starts harvesting the cooked food.
The harvest is hot, cramped and time consuming, as one by one, each piece of food is plucked from the pit.

The first pot, heading toward the table.

Since most beaches today outlaw any fires on the beach, this tradition has been relegated to private beaches only. Most caterers who specialize in clambakes, usually bring a large metal vat to build the fire within. It's far removed from the natural sand pit with stones - the historic, traditional New England clambake on the beach. Which is a regional institution quickly fading into oblivion. 

The service is casual - dumped onto a table.

Self-Service. A guest with his selection of lobster, clams, corn, potatoes & sausage.

Thankfully, Forest Lowry is determined to help this New England institution survive, much to the pleasure of his family.

Forest Lowry on the beach.
(Sources: Participant in the feast, photos by Jack A. Atkinson with contributions from several other participants, text research from wikipedia.)

Until later,

ARTSnFOOD, is an online publication dedicated to "The Pursuit of Happiness, the Arts and Food." ™ All rights reserved. Concept, Original Art, Text & Photographs are © Copyright 2012 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. All gallery, museum, fair or festival photographs were taken with permission. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jack! Loved reading about the traditional New England clam bake!