History of the New England Clambake

Photo by andrewyang Marcus is hosting a traditional New England clambake on the Jersey Shore this Saturday at The Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival. In preparing for the event, many of us here in the Marcus Samuelsson Group offices recently found ourselves quite curious about the custom. We turned to trusty Google to learn more, and wanted to share our findings with you.

Today, clambakes are no longer exclusive to New England, as they are incredibly popular in Ohio and even California. There are also endless variations in technique and ingredients. For instance, some clambakes include sausages and other meat. In the past, seafood was not considered an adequate protein source for the men doing the hard labor of digging and gathering for the clambake, so meat was added for energy. This is why some clam chowder includes ham bone or bacon. Other menu items for a clambake can include lobster, white potatoes, corn, and cold beer; the only universal item is steamed clams. Clambakes have also been streamlined in recent years with the use of enormous stainless-steel pots heated by propane burners.

We were astonished to learn that clambakes have been a tradition in New England for over 2,000 years. Native American tribes of states such as Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut have long cooked clams and lobsters in sand pits as means of subsistence. In fact, it is possible to still stumble upon remnants of historic cooking pits in Rhode Island.

A 1947 clambake in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Photo by Boston Public Library

A traditional clambake begins by digging a pit in the sand of the beach where the clams are gathered. The pit is a product of centuries past: Native Americans did not have massive cooking pots, so they used the earth as their cooking vessel. The pit is then filled with seaweed, lined with hot rocks or stones that have been heated until white-hot over a wood fire. Next, live clams, mussels, and lobsters are added, and the pit is covered with more seaweed and some sand. Finally, a wet tarp of canvas or plastic is laid over all until the food is cooked.

The end product of a clambake is not necessarily a decadent meal. Clambakes are the types of cultural traditions that don’t just feed the participants. Instead, they are deeply nourishing events for the individual and the community. Kathy Neustadt’s book Clambake paints a vivid picture of the Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting’s annual clambake in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, which has occurred on the third Thursday of August since 1888 (!). Neustadt discusses how the event is inclusive, relying on the abilities of every individual.  She also emphasizes how clambakes revere the surrounding environment, relying on the fertile soil and easy access to the ocean to create the custom. Clambakes exist as a reminder of ancestry as time marches on.

Few meals are as fulfilling as a clambake. It is an all-day activity that yields scrumptious results, but the long process and intricate cooking method creates a reverence for the tradition and its participants.


USDA Takes Potatoes Off The Menu

By: Dylan Rodgers

There are few foods as remarkable as the potato.  Though little and mal-shaped, potatoes have been quintessential to the development of numerous civilizations living in inhospitable conditions.  But now the potato is slowly being weeded out of American health standards.

High atop the Andes Mountain range, people depend on the potato almost entirely.  For nearly 8000 years, native South Americans have relied on their duo of nutrition:  the potato and maize.  Aside from a little guinea pig meat here and there, the ancient Inca owe their survival to the versatility and durability of the potato.

Around 1532, once the Spanish conquistadors began to 'Christianize' the Americas, they 'discovered' the potato.  According to some historians, the spuds induction into European diets was a key factor that boosted European population during the industrial era.

The point of all this history is to show how the potato has done nothing except help populations grow, eat healthier, and survive some of the most agriculturally disastrous conditions known on the planet.  And now the USDA is reducing its recommended consumption of potatoes and grains to next to nothing?  What did the potato do to deserve such malice?

The most average way Americans eat potatoes is in little fried golden sticks in mass, salty quantities.  Most every school lunch features French... sorry, Freedom Fries as the only potato choice available.  Childhood obesity and its matured, adult version are the USDA's main concern these days.   So instead of educating the public and forcing schools to practice healthy cooking techniques (like baking), they have decided to simply throw the potato out of a healthy diet.

Considering what the spud has done for us in the past, let's not be so hasty.  Instead let's think of how everything would be different if the ancient South Americans and not-so-ancient-but-still-old Europeans had consumed only French fries rather than baked potatoes.  In short, the Inca would have been long gone before the Spanish ever arrived due to a culture-wide cardiac arrest.

If the USDA enacts this change, potato farmers will suffer from low sales, school lunch programs will be forced to find more expensive alternatives, and we as a nation will continue to blame inanimate objects for the sad results of our unhealthy cooking habits.  By this logic, deep fried broccoli is more nutritious than a baked potato rich in vitamin A, B, C, and fiber.  The USDA, being the main source of nutritional information for the public, should have taken this chance to deal with obesity and its causes instead of ostracizing an innocent tuberous crop.

Photo: Susy Morris

A Tale of Two Tubers - Food Thoughts with Sheryl Estrada

"You like potato, and I like potahto You like sweet potato, and I like yam"

The second line isn't a part of the song, "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off." It's just me making a point.

I have heard sweet potatoes called yams, and vice versa. But the two have differences, which go beyond pronunciation. As the season begins in the States for sweet potato pies and candied yams, let's take an overview of the veggies.

Yams are the tubers of a tropical vine native to Africa and Asia. They are also popular in Latin American and Caribbean markets. There are hundreds of different varieties. Yams are high in vitamins C and B6,  fiber, manganese and potassium. They have more natural sugar than sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are the tubers of a plant native to the tropical parts of South America, and eventually became cultivated in the Southern U.S. They are high in beta carotene, fiber and vitamins C and B6. A variety known as white sweet potatoes have pale yellow flesh and pale skin. Its taste is not sweet, and its texture is hard like white potatoes. The variety of sweet potato in which the skin is more orange in color and has a softer, dark orange flesh is what is often mistaken for a yam.

According the website, Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress, The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term "yam" to be accompanied by the term "sweet potato." It states, "Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!"

So, you need to make sure your yam is indeed a yam. Otherwise, you might be sweet potato duped. Though, I don't think you can go wrong with either vegetable. They are both tasty tubers.