We’re deep in summer, folks! Sitting at the beach, eating Twizzlers and wondering what to do this month. We know your usual go-to August traditions may be cancelled so we’re stepping in to give you some great alternatives. To paraphrase The Isley Brothers: if you can’t do the thing you love, love the thing you do.
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?
July, it’s nice to see you again! We’re starting to see calendars become useful again as activity starts to hum around the South Coast. We’ve got some great things to do outdoors or from the comfort of home on our 8 Great Things list this month. Stay healthy, stay safe, and enjoy the pleasures of summer this month.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Hey guys! There’s an extra day in February this year! It’s like that extra hour in the Fall when daylight savings ends –you can fit more in! So try one (or more!) of these 8 Great Things to do in February on the South Coast (we actually added an extra thing in there, in keeping with the Leap Year theme!)
1. S-Mitten With This DNRT Event!
Sometimes we need a little extra encouragement to get out there and walk in the winter. The DNRT offers the kids in all of us to a scavenger hunt of sorts. Head out to Paskamansett Woods and count the number of “lost” mittens you find before the stone bridge. Take a picture in front of one of the mittens and email it to [email protected] with your answer. You might win a copy of Jan Brett’s classic The Mitten. Now through February 14. Paskamansett Woods, Chase Road, Dartmouth. More here.
2. Oyster Stew
The Buzzards Bay Coalition continues a Westport Fishermen’s Association tradition with the annual Oyster Stew Supper and Community Presentation. Come together to enjoy a delicious seafood stew and learn something new about your community. February 6. 6:00 supper (includes homemade oyster stew, cornbread, fresh baked apple pie topped with Adamsville cheddar cheese – yum!) followed by the presentation. Community presentation is free but dinner is $15 and requires reservations. See here for more info and to make reservations for the supper.
3. Wine & Convo
The Drawing Room is continuing its monthly Wine Salon Series exploring the art and science of wine. This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, they present Romance and Wine: Social Lubricant, Impulse Control & Institutional Wisdom. With a title like that, it’s bound to be an interesting afternoon! Sunday, February 9. 2:30 to 5. $35 includes wine, of course, and a bit of food. 36 North Water Street, New Bedford. Purchase tickets here.
4. Hike & Hops
Like the DNRT, the Wildlands Trust is also dangling a carrot to get us outside and walking but in this case, it’s in the form of adult beverages. Join them at Wareham’s Great Neck Preserve on a 3.5 mile hike past a varied landscape of forest, marshland, salt water cove, freshwater ponds, abandoned bogs, sheep pasture, and glacial uplands. Follow that up with a post-hike social hour at the Buzzards Bay Brewery taproom in downtown Buzzards Bay. $5 for members/ $10 for nonmembers.February 15 at 1:00 (please arrive by 12:45). Crooked River Road, Wareham. Purchase tickets here.
5. Love & Marriage Game Show
Head on over to the Seaport Inn for an entertaining evening of the Love & Marriage Game Show (think the Newlywed game). Jordan Paiva hosts, dinner is available and there’ll be lots of laughs. February 15 from 6 to 10 pm. Dinner at 6 for $57. If you want to attend to just the show, it’s $25 and starts at 7:30. Seaport Inn & Marina, 110 Middle Street, Fairhaven. Purchase tickets here.
6. Tap, Tap, Tap
Lucky us! We live in New England where maple sap flows freely in late winter/early spring. Come learn more about age-old practice of tapping maple trees with the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Saturday, February 22, 10 to noon. LaPalme Farm, Blain Street, Acushnet. Free, but register here.
7. A Remarkable Home Grown Cover Band
We first saw Morrissey Blvd at the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Watershed Ride finish line party and thought they were impressive. We were even more impressed when we looked closer and saw how young they were. And then even MORE impressed to learn they were all siblings. Come see these talented New Bedford kids for yourselves at The Vault where they’ll be performing at a fundraiser for the Buttonwood Park Zoo’s music outreach programs. February 22, 5:30 to 7:30. The Vault Music Hall & Pub, Greasy Luck Brewery, 791 Purchase Street, New Bedford. See more here.
8. Uncover the Secret Saboteurs
Some of us (cough, cough) have started sliding from our January clean eating resolutions. The Marion Institute with Southcoast Health may be able to turn things around with their screening of the film Secret Ingredients: which focuses on the stories of people who regain their health after discovering the secret ingredients in their food and making a bold commitment to avoid them. Post-screening, there will be a discussion with Kathleen DiChiara whose family’s story is at the heart of the movie. February 26 at 6 pm. St. Luke’s Hospital McBratney Amphitheater, Page Street, New Bedford. See more here.
9. The Adventures and History of the Tabor Boy
Join Captain James Geil and his Tabor Academy high school student crew as they share their 645-mile journey in the Marion to Bermuda race using only the celestial navigation they learned at Tabor. February 27. Reception at 6:30, presentation at 7. New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford. $15 for members and Tabor alums, $25 for nonmembers. See here for more and to buy a ticket.
Our print issues are always chock full of other great calendar ideas…..become a subscriber so you get the full round-up of great things to do on the South Coast. Subscribe right here!
It’s a new year AND a new decade — so we threw a couple of things on the list to inspire you to try new things!
1. Walk Right Into the New Year
There’s 0% chance of precipitation and 100% chance of a good time on one of the local New Year’s Day walks organized by our wonderful land conservation non-profits. Get outside and enjoy nature on your own or on one of these group walks (resolution: make new friends!) on January 1st:
The earliest of the bunch is at 9 am. Join the DNRT for a winter hike around the Frank Knowles/Little River Reserve. Free. More here.
Choose between a shorter hike (2.5 miles) and a longer hike (7 miles) on the 8th annual First Day hike with Friends of the Myles Standish State Park. Meet at 10:45 am. Find out more here.
A 3+ mile walk in the Let Conservation area in Westport gives you beautiful views of tidal estuaries and salt marshes. Meet at 10 a.m. $5 suggested donation to the Westport Land Trust. More here.
Join the Lloyd Center’s Mark Mello for insight into coastal ecology and bird identification at Gooseberry Island. 10 a.m. Free but register here.
The Sippican Lands Trust leads a walk around its White Eagle Property. It’s free and starts at noon (but check the website for any updates).
2. Meatballs & Spaghetti
An entree at one of the best restaurants on the South Coast for $10? If you’ve never been to Ella’s Wood Burning Oven Restaurant (winner in multiple categories in our readers’ Best of the South Coast), here’s your chance. Chef Marc Swierkowski is offering his Sicilian meatballs and spaghetti for just $10 on Monday nights. Go! This is a major deal! Dine-in only. Ella’s, 3136 Cranberry Highway, Wareham. More information here.
3. Model Behavior
Bruce Gifford is renowned for the painstaking accuracy of his model boats, down to the navigation books on the shelf in the wheelhouse. He’ll be at the Fishing Heritage Center to display some of his models and talk about this intricate – and fun – art form. January 11, from 1 to 4 pm. 38 Bethel Street, New Bedford. More info here.
4. “Clear Your Mind.” Yoda
Have you been to the Symphony lately? If not, here’s your chance. January features movie music composed by John Williams (think Star Wars, E.T., Harry Potter, Jurassic Park). It’s an entertaining way to ease yourself into becoming a symphony-lover. You can even buy yourself some candy at the concession stand and bring it to your seats, just like at the movies. January 11 at 7:30. Tickets from $10 to $65. See more here.
5. Walking Book Club!
The weather didn’t cooperate last month so we’re trying it again! Join us for an afternoon of literary fun, fresh air and community spiritedness while we walk along Fall River’s waterfront and listen to Paull Goodchild read from and discuss his novel The Case of the India Pale Ale. No need to have read the book already, just come along. We’ll meet inside the cozy Tipsy Toboggan. The event is free thanks to Partners Village Store but please register here so that we can send you email updates if there are changes due to weather. January 12 at 2 pm. Meet at Tipsy Toboggan, 75 Ferry Street, Fall River. See more here and cross your fingers for clear weather.
6. Celebrate MLK’s Birthday
The Z is throwing a big musical shindig for MLK, Jr. with Damien Sneed’s We Shall Overcome. A repertoire from across the African American music traditions that electrified generations of civil rights activists and defenders is interwoven with the spoken word from Dr. King’s recorded speeches. So powerful that a power outage couldn’t stop this show (see what happened here). Very cool! January 20, 7:30 pm. The Zeiterion, 684 Purchase Street, New Bedford. Tickets from $25 to $45. See more here.
7. Board the Entrain!
We saw these folks at the Bourne Scallop Festival a few years back and they are phenomenal! Their collective resume includes stints playing with Bo Diddley, Carly Simon, Chuck Berry, Southside Johnny, James Montgomery, Flor De Cana, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Get a preview of them here and then come on down to the Narrows Center to see them IRL. January 24 at 8 pm. Buy tickets here. $28, general admission. $31 day of show.
8. Dance Zone
To round out our month of trying new things, let Paul Wilde introduce you to contra dances, line dances with English, Scottish, and French origins. This monthly Wareham event is open to longtime fans and newbies alike. If you’re a beginner who wants a little more instruction, show up at 7:30 pm. January 25, 8 to 11 pm. Old Methodist Meeting House, 495 Main Street, Wareham. $10. More info here.
Our print issues are always chock full of other great calendar ideas (like our perennial favorite the Moby Dick Marathon at the Whaling Museum or the New Year’s polar plunges pictured above!)…..become a subscriber so you get the full round-up of great things to do on the South Coast. Subscribe right here!
Last thing to do this month? Vote in our photo contest! Check out these great shots by local photographers of South Coast living and tell us which one is your favorite! See the photos and vote right here.