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Author: Marlissa Briggett

A Feast of Friends: The Allen’s Neck Clambake

Allen's Neck Clambake

In the early morning light, the clambake begins.

They toss kindling atop a concrete slab, then stack a layer of logs, followed by a layer of smooth river stones. Logs, stones, logs, stones, until the pyre is about five feet high.

By 9 am, the pyre is glowing an array of oranges and reds. Smoke billows. The smell permeates. The wood turns ashy gray; most of it burns away. A heap of stones is left blistering, glowing like lava.

Men — many wearing old firemen’s jackets, masks, helmets, hoods, and heavy work boots with soles burned smooth from years of participating in this event— grab pitchforks and rakes.

They lift away stones, literally on fire, with pitchforks. I hear the sound of rolling rocks, the click of stone on stone, tumbling down to the ground. (Once burnt, the rocks can never be used again. So fresh rocks, 1.5 tons, I’m told, are donated each year by farmers and contractors.)

“If anybody’s got a mask, go to the other side!”

“Rake it out!”

“Let’s drag that last log out!”

“Somebody get a rake on this!”

They rake until the concrete slab is bare. Then they run hoe-like flat-edges across the baking concrete to clear the ash.

“Go, go, go, go, go!”

Scorched rocks are piled back on the concrete slab. The men dump some two tons of rockweed, gathered by the Friends at the same spot of the Westport River each year, from some 90 nylon grain bags onto the rock bed. It creates a thick fluffy mattress of seaweed.

I can smell it instantly — the intense tidal smell in my nose. The salt on fire.

Crates of clams are placed atop the bed of rockweed. As soon as they hit, I smell them cooking.

Then crates of fish, sausage, sweet potatoes, ears of corn, onions, and secret dressing in tin pans. Old canvas boat sails — which strikes me as particularly symbolic in this old Yankee fishing town of South Dartmouth — are heaved atop the mountain of food.

The sails closest to the food are soaked in water. Steam billows.

At 12:55 p.m., Bakemaster Troy Vincent tests the first clam, a searing hot bit of meat. He gives the OK.

The sails are lifted. Men use pitchforks to heave off rockweed. Men and women descend upon the pile to begin serving.

The Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting Annual Clambake, is celebrating its 130th year.

I know instantly that I am watching something special, something ritualistic, ancient.

* * *

Stan Stopka, a white-haired man with glasses, has been helping out at the clambake for a quarter century, doing “a little bit of everything.”

“I like the fact that I get to see friends I might only see once a year,” the Dartmouth resident tells me while pulling off the blackened overalls he used to break the fire to reveal khakis underneath.

“It’s my favorite day of the year. There are lots of people here I see only once a year,” Mike Harrison tells me, pitchfork in hand, standing by the fire remains with his kids, Levi and Piper.

“We’ve been bringing the kids since they were in carriers. I’ve been coming since I was a little kid. I love it,” says the Dartmouth resident. “It reminds me of my relatives who are no longer with me. It’s about the continuity, the learning passed down, generation to generation.”

His mother, Polly Harrison, 72, tells me she’s been attending the clambake for 70 years.

“I’m sure I got pushed here in a carriage,” she says with a laugh. “I love the camaraderie, the families that come here year after year over long distances.”

She arrives at the clambake with pies. They need at least 90, which come from various members of the Meeting. Nowadays, some pies might come from bakeries, but in the old days they were all hand-made, as was the brown bread, a staple of the clambake, though many “people nowadays think comes in cans,” as a few of the older women told me.

Lindelle O’Keefe, 75, of Dartmouth starts making the “secret dressing” three days before the bake. The recipe has been handed down through generations. I ask her if she can tell me what’s in it.

“Absolutely not,” she answers.

* * *

Peter Crysdale is the minister at the Allen’s Neck Meetinghouse. As Quakers don’t use titles, he’s known simply as Peter.

He tells me that this parcel of land — a grove at the corner of Allen’s Neck and Horseneck roads in South Dartmouth, with no exact GPS address — is used only one day a year: for this clambake.

He stands up on a picnic table to say a prayer, and some 625 people go silent.

Long rows of picnic tables — each row seats 88 or so — are numbered, and servers are assigned to each table. The head server oversees everything, and some have binders containing notes from years past, names of regulars, some dating back generations.

Kids deemed old enough to help out are “table runners,” running plates of food to the appropriate table, swiftly.

When the main course is done, runners quickly collect plates and “pie runners” — kids with what look like milk crates of pies strapped around their neck, like something out of the 1920s — walk the rows with pie slices, sitting on paper plates: blueberry, pumpkin, lemon meringue, key lime, chocolate.

“We’re like a well-oiled machine,” says Sarah Gifford Smith, who tells me she has been coming here since she was “a newborn.” Table 6 has been in her family for generations; the women in her family have been its head servers dating back to when the clambake started, she tells me.

In all, I’m told there are some 25 bushels of clams, a bushel of quahogs, 180 pounds of fish, 230 pounds of sausage, 75 dozen ears of corn, four bushels of sweet potatoes, 150 pounds of onions, 50 pounds of butter, some 90 pies, brown breads, 24 watermelons, and plenty of coffee, ice, water, jams, cream.

Dawn Tripp, of Westport, leads the First Day School at Allen’s Neck Friends Meeting. She motions to her 15-year- old son Jack, who worked as a runner: “He used to be one of the little boys running around, just playing. This year, he worked as a runner. When he’s older, he’ll shed the flip flops for work boots and be part of the laying of the stones, preparing the bake,” she says.

Kathy Neustadt, of Danbury, N.H., was a grad student studying folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986 when she visited her aunt in Westport and attended her first Friends of Allen’s Neck Meeting Clambake.

“The experience blew me away. It’s a farmers’ ballet,” she tells me. “I said, ‘This is what I’m studying. I can do my dissertation on this.’”

And she did so in 1988, then expanded it into a university- press book in 1992, “Clambake: A History and Celebration of an American Tradition,” which she sold at the clambake for years afterward. Although this year, the copies are conspicuously absent.

“We come down just for this. We can’t miss it,” she tells me. “People here, when they take a new job, they write ‘Third Thursday in August’ as a day off… It’s so magical.”

Story by Lauren Daley. Photographs by Alexandria Mauck.

A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2017 print issue. Want to support stories likes this one by Lauren Daley and see more of Ali Mauck’s photographs in all their glory?

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8 Great Things, June on the South Coast

Like clockwork, we like to get our 8 Great Things list out by the first of every month. But having watched the events of the last several weeks unfold, our monthly list seems unimportant. And for that reason, it’s June 3 and we’ve held back on releasing it. We’ve been thinking about how a publication that, by its very mission, is focused on the feel-good aspects of a region addresses the righteous anger and complexities arising out of the last weeks.

Let’s just put it right out there: we don’t know. But we’re talking about it. And we’re listening. If you have any ideas, please reach out in the comments or to [email protected]

In the meantime, here’s the list for you, in time to register for the first event on June 4.

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8 Great Distractions: Go Virtual, South Coast Style!

You know how you make the best of what you have in the cupboard these days? In that same vein, we’re doing the best we can with our regular 8 Great Things monthly blog. Usually, we tell you about great happenings on the South Coast in the month ahead but we’ve had to re-tool it for these social distancing times. In April, we gave you 8 Great Walks (which we encourage you to use again this month). For May, we are giving you 8 Great Distractions which features virtual events that you can enjoy from the comfort of home. So for May, entertain yourself with local music, art and culture without even paying a cover charge (or brushing your hair).

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South Coast Food, Direct from the Source

There have been reports of fields of onions buried in Idaho; milk dumped in Wisconsin and Ohio. An irony during this pandemic is that while shoppers have faced supermarket shortages, some farmers and fishermen are inundated with too much food because their normal chain is off as purchasing by restaurants, schools and hotels has cratered.

Photo: Jim Mahaney

Shopping Moves Directly to the Piers and Farms

Ironically, Troy Durr has never eaten a lobster in his life (he hates seafood). But his uncle and plenty of his friends are lobstermen. When he saw them struggling with this supply/demand dichotomy, the 25 year old Mattapoisett resident decided to do something about it. He let people know via Facebook that a lobster boat had lobsters that couldn’t be sold. Friends and neighbors came down to the pier and the lobsters sold out.

Troy created a Facebook group called SouthCoast Direct Source Seafood which is spreading exponentially (so good to hear about exponential growth not involving a virus).  Fishermen hauling in fish, lobster and shellfish alert him when the boats are coming in. He lets the public know through the Facebook page.

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8 Great Walks: April on the South Coast

We had to retool our regular 8 Great Things blog this month while we all work at social distancing. You know what we realized? We’ve still got outdoor walks (as long as you keep your distance from others) and, frankly, walks have been keeping us sane. So this month we’ve rebranded the monthly column to 8 Great Walks. Having an abundance of beautiful landscapes on the South Coast is a blessing. And like that box of Girl Scout cookies that you unexpectedly found in the back of your cabinet, a good walk can really make your day.

White Eagle Parcel

You drive down a bumpy lane in Marion to get to Sippican Land Trust’s White Eagle Parcel where you’ll see cranberry bogs, an abandoned hearth and hear frogs making their distinct chirpy mating calls. Off Parlowtown Road, Marion. More here. 

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UPDATED: Staying Connected During Coronavirus: South Coast Style

Across the United States, we’re seeing communities form and share in creative and unusual ways in the midst of the Coronavirus response — singing from balconies in Italy, delivering pitchers of margaritas (with a roll of toilet paper) in Brooklyn, and playing accordions from shop doorways. The same is happening across the South Coast. We’re gathering together a list to help everyone stay connected locally.

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8 Great Things for March on the South Coast!

March forward, folks! We’re in that sweet spot of the year that’s filled with such wonderful anticipation of what lies ahead: daffodils, short-sleeve shirts outside, bike rides and eating ice cream cones without mittens on. We’ve collected 8 Great Things to pass the time as you marshal spring in with style in March on the South Coast.

1. C’mon! A Rollicking Good Time!

We follow the guys of Barnstar! everywhere because we admire their reverence for exclamation points (just look at their name “Barnstar!” and their first album “C’mon!”). Plus, watching them in concert is like watching exclamation points come to life. They visit the Narrows this month. Don’t miss them!! (with special guest Amy Helm). March 7 at 8:00. The Narrows, 16 Anawan Street, Fall River. More here. 

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Bella Flower Truck: Floral Designer + Vintage Car Refurbisher

Better Than an Ice Cream Truck!

Suzanne Belanger was blown away on the streets of Nashville when she spotted a VW bus- turned-floral shop. She took so many photographs that her children made fun of her.

The floral designer came home to Marion and told her husband Marc that she wanted to do something similar. He gamely found her an old VW single cab bus and together they refurbished it to become Bella Flower Truck.

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Marine Painter John Stobart

John Stobart

A Roundabout Journey From England to the South Coast

Meet John Stobart, a world-renowned and highly sought after marine painter lives quietly on the shores of the Westport River. .

Born and raised in Derby, England, and formally trained at the Royal Academy Schools of London, Stobart came to Canada and then the US as a young man more than a half-century ago to establish gallery relationships and sell his grand depictions of maritime history and life to deep-pocketed collectors on this side of the pond.

He garnered a show for himself almost immediately upon his arrival in New York City, and at one point in his career he was a featured artist at six galleries throughout the Northeast. Currently, his work is for sale at his gallery in Salem, Massachusetts.

After living for years in Connecticut and on Martha’s Vineyard, Stobart visited a friend in Westport and fell in love with the area. He transformed a small cottage into a larger home with a studio space, where views of the ever-changing skies and picturesque shores inspire the artist daily.

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50 Years on Valentine’s Day!

Photo by Alexandria Mauck

We’ve got the best job in the world! We get to travel around the South Coast, finding good stories. Sometimes our readers lead us to great stories. Sometimes our advertisers do. In this case, Sharon Viens from Split Rock Townhomes in Mattapoisett suggested we talk to a Marion couple who had purchased a home at Split Rock. When we knocked on their door, we were greeted first by their wonderful pets and then discovered a wonderful Valentine’s story…..

Jeanne & Joe Daly were married on Valentine’s Day. Exactly 50 years ago. And here’s what they know after five decades of marriage: it’s almost impossible to get a reservation to celebrate your anniversary.

That’s the downside.

The upside? You never forget your anniversary.

They both grew up in Massachusetts, but it took moving to New York for them to meet. They met there in May, were engaged in September, married on Valentine’s Day and moved to Boston a few days later.

Jeanne’s mother was not happy with their choice of wedding date. “She was afraid there would be a blizzard,” says Jeanne. It was a legitimate worry: Jeanne’s birthday is February 15 and, in the days when schools got few days off for snow, Jeanne stayed home a couple of times on her birthday because of a blizzard. “Best birthday present!” she remembers.

A neighbor told her mother to hang rosary beads out the window to ensure good weather. They did so and it did the trick – it was a clear, if chilly, day. At the end of the day, Jeanne took the rosary back inside. Sure enough, it snowed heavily the next day – Jeanne and Joe were on the last plane to their Puerto Rican honeymoon before they shut Logan Airport down.

This year, they’ll stick close to home. Drawn to the area as boaters, they used to sail their boat down from the North Shore and dream of a place by the water. They travelled into harbors along the South Coast and Cape Cod before zeroing in on Marion.

Joe tells a story of quintessential small-town life that drew them to the South Coast. They were on their boat and he was heading out to pick up a few things at the General Store. Jeanne called after him “Don’t come back without the paper!” Joe walked over to Marion’s General Store but they were sold out of newspapers. Jack Cheney (the owner of the General Store) drove him up the street to buy a paper at a newspaper box. (Remember them?)

The box was empty. So Jack drove Joe all way to Wareham to make sure Jeanne got her paper.

Photo by Alexandria Mauck

The pets approve of their new home plans

They’ve happily lived in Marion for over 20 years. When it came time for them to downsize slightly, they didn’t want to move far. They wanted all the comforts of home, without having to weed the flowerbeds or power up the snowblower. By the end of the year, they’ll be settling in at Split Rock Townhomes in Mattapoisett.

In the meantime, if you want to wish them well on their Golden Anniversary, you’ll find them at Tastebuds in Mattapoisett (they have reservations!)

Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Jeanne & Joe day!

 

Want to meet some of our other favorite South Coast couples? Check out some past Valentine’s Day posts with other great local couples here and here.

Our print issues are always chock full of other great stories, restaurant and calendar ideas…..become a subscriber so you get the full round-up of great things to do on the South Coast. Subscribe right here for just $19.95 a year, delivered straight to your door!

 

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