Clambakes in Wickford

In her book Wickford Tales, excerpted in the June, 1965 edition of American Heritage, Anita W. Hinckley recalls life in a Rhode Island town around the turn of the century.

“I was always glad to get back from Europe,” she writes, “to Wickford, where things were happening,”

She writes about the first railroad station fire, the subject of a previous entry, about several romances, murders, and other local events, as well as other details of local life, like clambakes.

“In the fall, getting ready for winter and collecting all the food to be stored took much planning and lots of arguing and arranging.Our cellar at Cedar Spring was large, and under the high windows on the south side of the cellar were the barrels of molasses, hard cider, sweet cider, salt pork, and oysters in their shells.”

“Every Sunday the oysters were fed a handful of bran and they made a sucking noise eating quite plain to be heard. Whether the ones on the bottom of the barrel got any bran, I don’t know, but as the ones on top were the first eaten, their turn came soon enough.”

A gentleman named Ed Standeven was the master of the Sunday clambakes. He would supervise as the clams, lobsters, chickens, potatoes and sweet corn, each wrapped up in cheesecloth, were layered into a pit with seaweed between the layers.

Other incidentals included clam broth, watermelon, beer, soft drinks, johnnycakes and cider.

“To make the perfect johnnycakes, two thirds of last year’s meal and one third of this year’s is used. To use all this year’s makes it too moist.”

“We were very particular about our cider, too. No wormy apples were allowed — every apple was carefully picked , and the straw used in the press was clean and changed every time. We made sure the pressing was never hard enough to break the apple seeds. We  thought the best cider apples were Gravenstein, and the best eating apples were Baldwins or Seek-No-Further.”

“At the clambakes we always sang, and it was fascinating how our guests changed the time and tempo of the songs. When we had Whiffenpoof boys we of course had charming close harmony. Southern friends meant ‘Dixie’ and such-like songs.”

“On the rare times in the past when we were only family or had old-fashioned guests, we sang the standard old tunes, and Mother’s dear voice rang out with every word of every verse of ‘Johnny Sands,’ ‘The Spanish Cavalier,’ ‘Tell Me, Kind Sir,’ ‘Seeing Nellie Home,’ ‘Now the Day is Over,’ ‘Home on the Range,’ and all the rest.”

“It was always beautiful at our clambake place but when the moonlight was on the water it was very lovely to sit looking at the ocean, singing with friends and being at peace with the world.”