Cape Cod History home page
posted May 2004
pages 326-332 of Sand in Their Shoes
Sand in Their Shoes,
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, 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
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.
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.
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
differences. For example, you dig clams and you rake quahaugs.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
To dig clams, as
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,"
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
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
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.
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.
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
There is a yarn
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
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.
Cod Yesterdays, 1935
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
4 common crackers
Try out the salt pork, add chopped onions,
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 foror
onclam 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
medium sea clams, cleaned, or,
Sea Clam Pie
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
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!
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
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
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.
Best Men Are Cooks
1 hard boiled
2 tablespoons butter
slice salt pork, or
1 cup breadcrumbs, coarse 2 slices
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
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.