Annual Clambake brings friends, family, and seafood lovers together
No one knows exactly when Smick Neck Friends’ New England Clambake first began, but at least 50 years later, the community is still enjoying fresh clams cooked the traditional way.
This year’s clambake on August 11 was no exception. Sticking to tradition, the fire began at 9 a.m. as flames burned hardwood and heated up the stones over three hours.
The now red hot stones were transferred into a two-and-a-half-foot deep pit and covered with seaweed gathered on Gooseberry Island. It was then time to add the food: clams and vegetables were stacked on top in crates and covered with tarps to keep the heat in and build up steam. After about an hour, the bake was done.
The clams, which come from Maine, are prepared by a team led by Terry Brehaut. The clams are carefully washed, then given two baths in water with cornmeal and red pepper.
“The red pepper makes them spit,” explained Brehaut. “I don’t like sandy clams!”
After a final careful wash, clams were put into cheesecloth bag and tied with a slip knot so they can be easily opened by hungry guests -- a ritual of its own as singing volunteers tied each bag.
Bakemaster Bill Reid said the clambake is a big family event centered around clams which offer a special “smoky ocean” flavor. Many of the Friends, who are members of a few families, return from as far away as Ohio for the event.
“I’ve been doing it since I could walk,” Reid said, noting the youngest generation is starting to step up to help out with the bake.
Avery Reid, Bill Reid’s son, donned firefighting gear to help transfer the rocks to the pit for the first time. Avery thought that 13 was a good age to start helping with the fire.
“There’s a lot to learn, even though I stayed around the perimeter,” he said.
For some attendees, the clambake is on par with Christmas.
“Nothing can happen on Clambake weekend,” said Jen Reid. “No weddings, no soccer tournaments. The clams are like the smallest part of it.”
Anne Lopoulos agreed that the clambake is a big priority for the Friends' families.
“It is bred into people that have grown up in this meetinghouse,” Lopoulos said. “They feel like they can not miss the clambake.”
The welcoming family atmosphere extends to the guests, too, many of whom have been attending the clambake for years, even if they aren’t Friends. And the food, of course, is excellent.
Prepared by Paul Cannan, known as “Governor Chowder,” the chowder was made with quahogs.
“I use a recipe that’s been going on for 60 or 70 years,” said Cannan. “Although I’ve changed it a little. I think all cooks do that, and I think it’s for the better.”
His recipe, which produces 180 quarts of chowder, includes 18 pounds of onions, potatoes, gallons and gallons of milk, fat back, and seasoning. He uses quahogs because of their unique taste.
“I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t said it’s the best chowder they’ve ever eaten,” said Dotty Holcomb, who has been coming to the clambake since she was two.
“I married her just so I could come to the clambake!” joked her husband, Jonathan Doherty.
The clambake will, of course, happen again next year.