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A New England Symbol: Colonists and Clambakes

A New England Clambake
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.

What could be more emblematic of New England than a clambake? The act of feasting on clams baked over hot rocks on a beach is an American tradition that arose from the same invented mythology surrounding the pilgrims' Thanksgiving. A common but unsubstantiated legend tells how the Wampanoag Indians of coastal Massachusetts taught the practice to colonists during their initial period of contact. While the evidence for the historic origins of clam baking is not conclusive, the clambake is beloved to tourists and New Englanders alike.

Melville Clam Bakes Boston Harbor

Devote your search for these alone:
The sand that’s salted by the sea,
The Driftwood fire, the rounded stone,
Shelter of a wild-cherry tree,
But bellow like a wounded moose
If any says: Tomato-juice.

Heat up the stones till fiery red
For bottom to your sandy well,
With rockweed lay a steaming bed:
The clams’ and lobsters’ final hell—
But may their devil shake you loose
If you put in tomato-juice.

And when the rockweed starts to pop,
And when the whole begins to mutter,
Put on more stones and weed, and hop
To melt the freshest golden butter,
But though you’re subject to abuse,
For God’s sake, no tomato-juice!

O clams that are still fresh from mud!
O lobsters turning slowly red!
O delicate young Irish spud!
O corn whose husk has not been shed!
How well you fit each other’s use
(Unmingled with tomato-juice)!

A blue-fish, dripping salt from it,
And planked against the flames to brown,
Marries with lobsters from the pit,
And clams provide, to wash it down,
A Narragansett nectar-sluice—
Unpoisoned with tomato-juice.

From such a feast, all duly grown
In good Rhode Island’s sea and field,
Seasoned with bay-leaf on hot stone
To make the weeds their essence yield,
You shall be fed as heaven has use—
Unless you add tomato-juice.

-"Rhode Island Clambake" by Christopher La Farge


A New England Symbol: Colonists and Clambakes