Slaid Cleaves' Maine Clam Bake

First, have your uncles sneak into the town dump and haul out a used 250 gallon heating oil tank. Then have your neighbor cut it in half with his arc welder. Buy them all a case of Genesee Cream Ale.

Order a crate of lobsters from a local lobsterman. If you invite him to the clam bake he will probably give you “boat price.” Call up some cousins and friends to help with the clam digging and wood carrying. Borrow Dad’s pickup to haul a couple of loads of scrap wood from the neighbor who has the saw mill.

Borrow your uncle’s skiff and take a crew out to Loud’s Island to dig some clams. Keep a low profile because if the “clam cop” catches you digging without a license its a $300 fine. Don’t forget to bring some ratty old clamming shoes and some corn meal. On the way back from the island, soak the clams in saltwater with a cup of corn meal. This helps them digest out the gritty sand quickly. Optional: naked water skiing on the way home from the island.

Back on shore, have some kids start pulling seaweed off the rocks while a good sized fire is started right there on the shore. Someone needs to wrap up the potatos in tin foil. Soak the corn in a mesh bag off the side of the dock. Put the lobsters in onion bags (10 or 12 to a bag). Put the clams in smaller mesh bags.

Tap the keg.

When the fire has produced a good bed of coals, shovel some into an old Webber grill and throw the taters into the coals. You can cook burgers and dogs here for the land lubbers. Get all your side dishes and plates and napkins and butter cups ready.

All right. The coals are hot, everything is in place. Time to start cooking. Have a couple of friends slide the cooker (remember the 250 gallon oil drum – don’t forget to wash it out real good) over the coals. Stoke up the fire. Pour in a couple gallons of fresh water and heap in a bed of seaweed. Lay down some bags of lobsters, then the clams. Corn (still in its mesh bag) on top. Cover with another bed of seaweed. Soak some newspaper in water, and use a few sheets to cover the whole deal. Designate a time keeper. It’ll take 30-35 minutes.

While the water boils and the seaweed crackles, keep feeding the fire so its nice and even under the big pot. Don’t want any half-cooked lobsters. Put a couple of pounds of butter in a pan and set it beside the fire to melt.

Now gather up a crew to help you serve. They may be drinking and socializing by now and hard to motivate. Bang the oil tank with your rake to get their attention. It’s been 30 minutes or so.

Peel back the wet paper and throw it in the fire. Use a pitchfork or rake to haul out the top layer of seaweed. Then pick the mesh bags out one by one. Be sure the clams have opened up and are firm. Be sure the lobsters are done by flicking the curled up tail open. It should spring back to position strongly. Have the crew open up the bags and lay out the food on a buffet table (don’t forget the taters) while you clean out the rest of the smoking seaweed. Then get some help shoving the tank off the fire.

It’s time to eat now, sitting on chairs or crouched down on the rocks as the sun fades behind the pines. Its amazing how fast this food will disappear.

Throw the paper plates and shells into the fire. If there are any leftovers we can make a good chowder tomorrow. Stoke up the fire. Clean up your hands and break out the fiddles and guitars. Beer and whiskey (and sometimes moonshine) are flowing freely by now. Kids play maracas and everyone pitches in. Rowdy songs follow earnest folk singing. The old timers do their same old numbers. Stories are told, romances kindle. Some skinny dipping usually ensues. I remember once seeing a cousin jump off the roof of the lobster boat, naked, and swim around with a champagne bottle in one hand. It was his wedding. The crowd thins out as the stars turn in the heavens. At dawn stumble into a tent or a bunk somewhere – in a minivan, in a lobster boat, or just roll out a sleeping bag in the bed of your pickup truck. Be sure there is plenty of Moxie and BC for hangovers.

Grant PrettymanComment