Clambakes, a time-honored tradition here in Osterville, are often
the culinary centerpiece for weddings, neighborhood parties, and
Jason Maguire at Osterville Fish explains that there are two styles
of clambakes. The pot style clambake is more portable, and can be
cooked outdoors over a fire or in your kitchen on the stove. The other is the pit style. The difference? Both are delicious, but there’s a unique, sea-salty, smoky flavor that the more labor-intensive pit bake delivers.
Osterville native Edna Farrington and her family have hosted pit style clambakes at their home for 53 years. In 1960, Edna’s sewing circle decided to have a clambake to cook the clams their husbands brought home fresh from the beach. Edna’s husband, John B., designed special metal baskets to hold the food and long rakes to scrape the embers. Together they perfected the art of the clambake, and their methods
are still used today by their children, according to their son John, the retired Fire Chief of Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills. Edna is still
in charge after 54 years and now the extended family hosts 150 people for their annual bake.
A typical clambake menu includes steamer clams, potatoes, linquica sausage, onions, and corn on the cob along with chowder, cold potato salad, coleslaw and watermelon for dessert. Of course, every family adds their own unique ingredients.
You can create your own, or opt to have your clambake catered.
According to Osterville Fish’s Maguire, prices per person vary
depending on the cooking method (pot or pit), size of your party
and menu choices.
If you decide to go “old school” with a pit bake and do it yourself,
you are free to have one in your private beach or backyard. However,
clambakes are prohibited on all Osterville and Barnstable town beaches. Please contact the local Fire Department to see if a permit is required for your situation.
Remember to wear fire-proof gloves, use long rakes for raking the ashes, and rake the ashes onto a stone patio or driveway.
Wear long pants and shirts when dealing with the fire and steam, and hose down the soil at the edge of the sealed canvas, so the canvas won’t catch fire from any leftover ashes.
PREPARING A PIT BAKE
Preparing a pit bake is not for the faint of heart. It takes a team of
enthusiastic volunteers to help with planning, purchasing, set-up,
serving, and clean-up. Here’s a peek at how the Farrington Family
prepares their authentic Cape Cod clambake for 150 people:
Clams are flushed the day before and the rockweed (12 bushels) is
gathered from the Cape Cod Canal. Stones are brought into the back yard and laid in a 5' by 5' pit that
is 10" deep. Wood is placed across the stones in a lattice pattern, stuffed with
newspaper, and lit on fire. The fire burns for 3½ to 4 hours and then
long rakes are used to pull the embers off onto the driveway.
The wet rockweed is placed over the hot rocks. Metal baskets are filled with meats (first layer), clams and lobster (second layer), potatoes, corn and onions (top layer). Instead of metal baskets, cheesecloth bags tied at the ends may be used instead. Small canvases are placed over the food and then two large tarps are secured with dirt on the outer edge for steaming. A ventilation hole will happen naturally.
After one hour, the potatoes and onions are tested for doneness. While the food is steaming, the broth is prepared in a large turkey fryer containing onions, linguica sausage, and clams. Mussels dipped in sherry and butter are the
traditional appetizer for the Farrington bake. Potato salad, watermelon, and
lots of homemade desserts complete the feast.
After the clambake, the hole is filled in and the grass is reseeded.
OPTING FOR POT-STYLE
If that all sounds too daunting, a pot-style process is an easy alternative. Recipes abound on line and in locally published cookbooks – or just ask your native Cape Cod neighbors for their
family recipe. Most are happy to share.
Choosing whether to host your clambake catered or do it yourself on the stove or in a fire pit depends on the occasion, your budget, and the number of guests. Whichever method you choose, your guests will relish the tradition and the taste, just like the Farringtons.
– Diane Spencer (2015)