It’s summertime on Martha’s Vineyard, and that means … clambakes. Long before the Pilgrims showed up, New England Indians celebrated summer with clambakes. So I asked fellow Massachusettsan and James Beard Award-nominated author of 18 books, Jennifer Trainer Thompson, to walk us through the process. Yes, you get to play with a wood fire in a big way, and yes, there will be lobster. This guide is excerpted from Jennifer’s latest: Fresh Fish: A Fearless Guide to Grilling, Shucking, Searing, Poaching, and Roasting Seafood (Storey Publishing). You can get it wherever ebooks are sold for $3.99 or less now through July 18 only.
Note: If you don’t have access to a beach, you can prepare a traditional clambake in your backyard. And next month, we’ll show you how to do it on a grill top.
To New Englanders, the clambake is as cherished and steeped in tradition as Paul Revere’s ride. Clambakes are primal rituals, big boisterous affairs, usually held in high summer. Like a tailgate picnic, they are best done with a group, for they take a lot of time, but lots of helping hands add to the fun. The hardest part is collecting wet seaweed. It is so worth it—don’t be deterred.
Look at the tides, and make sure you build your bake at the high-water mark, as you’ll need about 7 hours from start to the time you eat. After spending the day gathering seaweed and firewood, building the pit, and eating your feast, you’ll want to linger by the fire to enjoy the night sky, so bring blankets, fixings for s’mores, and some good rum. Clambakes comprise three of my favorite activities: digging in the sand, enjoying a beach bonfire, and eating buttery shellfish with my fingers. This is the original Native American finger food—no bibs needed and you can wash your fingers in the surf.
Check out the book, Fresh Fish.