A New Commodity: From Bait to Plate
During a summer in the 1870s or 1880s, if you had the means, your family might have escaped the heat of the city by hopping on a train bound for the Massachusetts coast. At these destinations visitors stayed in new resort hotels partaking of the fresh sea air and the local color.
"Our early ancestors here in New England were familiar with shellfish. They were the food of the poor, and they didn’t want to be identified with the poor. But during periods of deprivation here in Colonial New England, they were forced to go out and harvest clams. But over time people did acquire a taste for clams, and it came in a surprising way—and that was the development of leisure time, and the development of transportation. And also refrigeration and ice. All this comes as a confluence, and people wind up getting on trains to go to resort hotels all along the coast of New England. They take ferries and steamers out to various coastal locations and islands that had big resort hotels on them. And when they get there, the kids have to be occupied so they go down to the beach, and they start digging up clams. It’s hard to document this kind of stuff, but based upon what information we have, it is suggested that they carried these clams up to the chef, who said, “Yeah, I can do something with it. Instead of putting haddock in the chowder tonight we’ll put some clams in it.” -Joe Carlin
Tourists, especially children, enjoyed the novelty of digging for a clam or two while sitting on sandy beaches. Before long, the clam began making an appearance on the plates at these resorts - steamed, or fried, or thrown in fish chowder.