Cape Cod History home page
Lincoln bibliography
posted May 2004

pages 326-332 of Sand in Their Shoes

    Sand in Their Shoes, 1951, by Edith Shay and Frank Shay, is a great collection of letters and essays about Cape Cod and Cape Codders, written from 1602 to about 1950. Joseph C. Lincoln's piece on clams and quahaugs was previously published in his Cape Cod Yesterdays, 1935.  It is presented here with an introduction, The Captain's Table, by the Shays; and it is followed by several shellfish recipes.

    Lincoln wrote a poem about Cape Cod cooking as an introduction to a 1911 cookbook, and a paean to clam chowder in a 1939 New England cookbook as well.


THE CAPTAIN'S TABLE

THE CAPTAIN, and for that matter, all of his crew, live comfortably and eat very well. His food, for the most part locally produced, is on the solid and substantial side; it is traditional and still prepared from recipes in use since the eighteenth century. He is pardonably proud of his table and his invariable greeting after asking grace is, "Now, eat hearty and give the ship a good name!"

    The Captain demands the old-fashioned strawberry shortcake, and the shorter the better, capped with Falmouth berries; he likes his blueberry pie made of the Cape swamp berries, which are smaller and tangier than other blueberries. His jelly is of the beachplum and he likes it sharp and his favorite compote is cranberry sauce. He grows excellent tomatoes in his garden but will have none of them in his chowder and he seldom has oyster stew because he had already eaten the oysters raw.

    The foregoing with fish, and what a variety! lobsters, clams and quahaugs, are the main items of his diet and after three centuries of sailing all the world's seas he has little or no desire for more exotic dishes. Indeed, common to his table, are the little bay scallops that are high up among the exotic blue chips in the gourmet's cuisine.



CLAMS AND QUAHAUGS

BY JOSEPH C. LINCOLN

A New Yorker will tell you that there are two kinds of clams — hard and soft. The variety with the long, thin shell is a soft clam and that with the round, thick shell is a hard clam. The Cape Codder, however, will tell you nothing of the kind.

    To him a clam is a clam and a quahaug is a quahaug. They are both shellfish — yes; but that does not prove anything. A hen and a canary are both feathered, but if you expect a hen to sing like a canary, you will be disappointed. And if you expect a quahaug soup with tomatoes in it to taste like a Cape Cod clam chowder, you will be even more so. Each of them may be good of its kind, but they are different kinds, that's all. You may call a clam a "sedge" or a "sea clam" or a "rundown," but he is a clam, just the same. And calling a quahaug a "Little Neck" or a "cherry-stone" does not make him any the less a quahaug.

    Yes, and there are other differences. For example, you dig clams and you rake quahaugs.

    The distinction between the two is something the Cape Cod child learns at his mother's knee — or at her table. He knows and therefore to him the carelessness of the outlander is surprising. Even more surprising is the indisputable fact that, in this world of ours, there are people who never saw a clam —would not recognize one if they met him on the flat at low tide.

    The dictionary — we infer that it was not compiled by a Cape Codder — says there are countless varieties of clams. It even mentions the "razor clam" among them. Now, every boy of our generation in our town knew that a "razor fish" was not a clam at all. He was not shaped like a clam. He was long and thin — he did look something like an old-fashioned razor with the blade closed into the handle — and he lived buried in the wet sand on the flats, a quarter of a mile or more from high-tide mark. He marked his home by a tiny ring, with a hole in the middle of it, in the sand above his head. He had made that ring by squirting water up through the hole. In that respect he was like a clam, for clams squirt too — real clams, we mean, not quahaugs.

    The Cape Cod boy's procedure with a razor fish was, and perhaps still is, simple and primitive. Having located him, he thrust his fingers into the sand and dug as rapidly as possible. Rapidity was essential for, unless one was very quick, the razor fish slid out from between his shells and downward; in which case, when the two shells were resurrected, their former occupant was no longer at home; he was at large and seeking lower levels.

    But, if we were quick enough, we got him while at least a third of him was still in residence. After that — well, if you don't mind, we won't go into details.

    I have known people who said that razor fish made a wonderful stew, as sweet and flavorsome as a scallop stew. I never tasted a stew made from the razor fish, but I do remember what he used to taste like. And, after all, everyone eats oysters and Little Necks au naturel.

    Our wide stretches of flats were habited by clams, thousands and thousands of them. At the inner edge, bordering the clumps of coarse beach grass, were the "sedge clams," the little fellows, tender and just right for a bake or a boil. Farther out were the "rundowns," the big chaps with their shells snowy white. Rundowns were best in a chowder. And, away out, along the outer bar, almost two miles from shore and only get-at-able when the tide was at full ebb, were the large "sea clams." Sea clams made the best clam pie.

    To dig clams, as they should be dug, a clam hoe and a "dreener" are the proper equipment. The clam hoe, as of course almost everyone knows, differs from the garden hoe. To dig clams with a garden hoe is a rash and unprofitable adventure. The sharp edge of the blade cuts through the tender shells and, although you may get your clam, you are all too likely to get him in sections. I remember a neighborhood clam bake, presided over and superintended by a veteran Codder, where one of the guests, a city visitor, insisted on digging his own share and, as the clam hoes were all in use, he dug with an ordinary hoe. When he brought in his spoil, the veteran looked into the half-filled pail and sniffed.

    "Say, Mr. Jones," he observed sadly, "it's too bad, but you've made a mistake in your figurin'. We wasn't cal'latin' to have clam hash."

    The Cape Cod clam hoe has three or four narrow and deep prongs instead of one shallow blade. Its handle, too, is short, no more than two or three feet long. You set the prongs into the sand at their full depth and then pull. The wet sand is heaped between your feet as you dig and, between hoefuls, you stoop and pick up the clams you have uncovered. By "stoop" I mean, of course, stoop lower, for you have been stooping all the time. Clam digging is a back-breaking business — for a greenhorn. An hour of it is enough to take the starch out of the most dignified backbone and helps to add to a pious vocabulary.

    The "dreener" is a sort of a lath crate with a handle to carry it by. The clams, as they are dug, are deposited in it and, after digging, are washed by dipping the dreener and its contents into a pool of clean water. Moving the dreener up and down in the water rinses away the sand, or is supposed to.

    The dreener was a drainer once, probably, but it has not been one for a century or more down on the Cape. It is a dreener, just as a Cape fisherman's barrel is a — a — I declare I don't know exactly how to tell you what it is. Something between a barrel and a "beerill" and a "burrill," but not precisely either. I could pronounce it for you but to save my life I cannot spell it adequately. There is a "b-r-r-r" in the middle of it that defies orthography.

    Digging the rundowns is like digging for sedge clams, except that the digger works faster. And he gets fewer clams at a time. The results are worth the effort, however, for they —the clams are often from three to four inches in length, fat — and, oh, so white and clean.

    There is little real digging in a sea clam hunt. These big, three-cornered fellows lie with their backs exposed or just beneath a clearly visible mound of sand. I never heard that sea clams were good for anything, as an edible, except, as stated before, in a clam pie. They are tough. The fish like them and they are gathered principally for bait.

    The quahaug — please give him the local pronunciation "Ko-hog" — is not brought to the surface with a clam hoe. He must be raked for. If you are a casual, an amateur quahauger, you may use a garden rake and go after him at low tide. He lies at the bottom, usually under a layer of seaweed and in at least a few inches of water. You rake the seaweed just as you would rake a lawn, lifting the rake after each stroke to pick the quahaugs from between its teeth. Then you would put them in a bucket or dreener. Raking for quahaugs in this way is not as hard as clam digging.

    But if you are a professional — if you "go quahauging" regularly, to earn a living — you do work hard. Indeed you do. You may do it in two ways, the first a trifle easier than the second. The first way is to put on fisherman's boots, high rubber boots reaching above the hips and secured to your belt, and wade the submerged flats at the edges of the channels, raking as you go. And you use a regulation quahaug rake. Its teeth are much longer than those of an ordinary rake and are turned up at the ends, making the implement a sort of scoop. And, because a dreener would be a hindrance rather than an aid to this sort of work, you fasten a canvas or burlap bag, open end up, to your belt, and put your quahaugs into that. The bag is heavy and growing heavier all the time, the boots are heavy, the rake anything but light, and the wading through seaweed not easy. Does sound like hard work, doesn't it? Yes, but wait a moment. You have not been "deep quahauging" yet.

    Deep quahauging is a comparatively recent innovation on the Cape — at least, I believe it is. Cape Codders have always raked quahaugs; no doubt the first settlers raked for them along the flats. But when we were youngsters, we never heard of anyone seeking them in deep water. To go quahauging in a boat would have been a town joke in our youth. But scores do that very thing now and do it daily.

    There is a yarn to the effect that the idea originated like this: Someone was out in the bay — we were never told which bay — dredging for flounders. And, at one spot, the dredges brought up hundreds and hundreds of quahaugs, big ones. Flounders were scarce at the time and there was always a market for quahaugs. So this particular dredger marked the spot and returned to it the next day and the days succeeding. Others, of course, followed his example and "deep quahauging" became a regular and profitable profession.

    The deep quahauger goes out to the grounds in a motor-boat or skiff. There he anchors and begins to work. His rake is a toothed scoop, somewhat like that used by the wader, but bigger and heavier; sometimes it is weighted to make it heavier still. Its wooden handle is forty feet long and flexible. He throws the scooped end as far from the boat as he can, lets it sink to the bottom, and then draws it toward him and up to the boat, working the long handle backward over his shoulder in a series of jerks. When he gets it into the boat, he paws over the half bushel or so of mud and sand and seaweed, picks out his quahaugs, dumps the trash — "culch" he would call it — over the side and makes another cast. And he keeps on casting and jerking and sorting and dumping all day long, with a brief rest while he eats his lunch. He makes, so they say, a pretty fair wage, and I think he earns it.

    If, in the summer, you are motoring by — well, let us say the upper end of Pleasant Bay, between Orleans and Chatham, and look out over the water toward the east, you will see a dozen or more boats anchored a mile or so out. The occupants of those boats are quahaugers, every one of them.

— From Cape Cod Yesterdays, 1935



Captain's Clam Chowder

1 pint of clams, with their juice
3 oz. salt pork, diced
1  chopped onion
2  medium potatoes, sliced
2 cups boiling water
3  cups milk 1 cup cream
1  teaspoon salt
2  tablespoons butter
black pepper
4  common crackers

Try out the salt pork, add chopped onions, and saute till golden. Drain the clams, setting aside the juice. Clean, chop and add to pork and onions. Parboil the potatoes for five minutes and add to the clams. Cover with the boiling water and simmer until the potatoes are done. Scald the milk and cream together. Heat clam juice and add it slowly to the hot milk. Now pour the hot milk over the clam and potato mixture and don't cook any more. Add butter and black pepper.
Put in each soup plate a split commons which has been soaked for a few minutes in cold milk. Or use crumbled pilot crackers— but not salty crackers of any kind.

Aye, it's good enough to set a bone!

A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a
dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense
before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for—or
on—clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as
American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national
Anthem. It is "Yankee Doodle in a kettle." — Joseph C. Lincoln




Sea Clam Pie

10 medium sea clams, cleaned, or,
2  pints quahaugs
3  oz. salt pork, diced
2/3 cup onion, chopped
1 cup bread or cracker crumbs
1 recipe plain pastry
1/2 pint cream

Chop or grind the clams. Try out salt pork and fry onion lightly. Add clams and cook a few minutes, till the clams shrink a little. Remove from fire and add crumbs, add salt and pepper and cream. Line a pie plate with pastry and put in the clam filling. Dot with butter and put on top crust. Brush with milk and bake. (Some prefer not to include the onion.)

Life giving, we call it!



Bay Scallops

These are one of the many compensations for spending the entire year on the Cape. They come in after Thanksgiving and go away before St. Patrick's Day. The process is simple: wash, drain and dry thoroughly, roll lightly in flour or very fine cracker crumbs and saute in melted butter, keeping the scallops rolling about the pan.

Fried Eels

Clean and skin two pounds of salt-water eels and cut in short lengths and boil them for about five minutes. Drain and cool. Dip the pieces in beaten egg and corn meal and fry in bacon fat.

Clam Cakes

1  cup quahaugs, chopped              4 tablespoons flour
2  eggs, well beaten                       salt and pepper
Shape into cakes and fry in a well-greased frying pan. Turn once and brown on the other side. Serve with lemon butter or quartered lemons.
— From The Best Men Are Cooks

Cape Cod Turkey

1  codfish                                    1 hard boiled egg, chopped
2  tablespoons butter                    1 slice salt pork, or
1  cup breadcrumbs, coarse           2 slices bacon
2  tablespoons celery, chopped     Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon marjoram, or summer savory, or a pinch of sage.
Brush fish inside and out with melted butter or olive oil. Melt butter; add chopped onions and bread crumbs and brown a little. Moisten with a little water or with stock, if you have it, and add celery, herb, salt and pepper and chopped egg. Stuff and sew up the fish. Lay slices of salt pork in the pan and put the fish on them. Dredge with salt and pepper. Bake in a moderate oven and baste with the drippings. It's the chopped hardboiled egg that makes this special. Serve with an egg sauce.
— From Down Cape Cod