Cabbage Island Clambake
We came to Boothbay Harbor, ME, for the renown Clambake on Cabbage Island, Boothbay Harbor is a sweet town, one of many along the coast of Maine, it is heaven for tourists for sure and has the true charm of the North Eastern Coast, and of course, all the lobster you want.
We rented a house up on a hill and that was a real treat, what a charming place. The wind blowing in from the bay is cool and refreshing on these hot sunny days.
There are plenty of touristy restaurants in this town, with plenty of seafood, not for the gastronomically inclined but fun and seafood filled.
We reserved in the morning for our boat ride on the Bennie Alice to Cabbage Island, the price is truly fair for such an outing and food. NOT reserving ahead of time was a chance to take.
I went myself for the purpose of researching how a clam bake is done so I could try to recreate one myself for my own family and friends. There is a lot of history behind the boat Bennie Alice and Cabbage Island Clambake itself, I was concentrating on the clambake only, barely paying attention to everything else that was going on. But what I did take good notice of was the welcoming nature from the Moore family, there are four generations at work and much pride in this family run business and it shines true. Thank you Wayne and Bob, and Bennie too!
We were off the boat first and I had spotted where the clambake itself was set up, so there I went, not in a hurry, one does not hurry in Maine, but I did make it there in hopes of seeing as much I could. This clambake feeds up to 200 people, we were 179 on this trip.
Traditionally, clam bakes were made in a sand pit with hot rocks and wood, with layers of seaweed, seafood and vegetables. On Cabbage Island, this method is followed with the same idea except for the sand, as a clambake made in a sand pit takes up to 8 hours, this one takes 2 hours.
The ingredients are pretty much the same, minus the sand, you have salt water, fire, seaweed, then the corn, potatoes, onions, eggs, clams (no other seafood) and lobsters. To see it done was the best part of the day, the second was eating the lobster, and the portions are generous!
They start out by gathering the seaweed and getting plenty of hard wood for the fire. The bottom of the square pan is sturdy mesh wire and this is laid over a few inches of sea water, the fire heats the water, the water boils and steams the layers of seaweed and food in between. The vegetables take longer to cook and go on for the full two hours, the clams and lobsters take about 45 minutes. The pan is covered with an untreated canvas to keep the steam in and soaked regularly with water, the fire itself burns hot and constantly under the pots.
I watched like a hawk as the boys(men) worked their magic, I should have taken their names, maybe someone can let me know below, they worked hard, but effortlessly it seemed to me, having perfected what they do daily and at times more than once a day.
Once the food is ready, the action turns into full swing, and both Bob and Wayne are working the lines to make as many trays of food as needed. It surprising to see how fast 179 attendees get served. The young men and women working service are pretty awesome themselves, they smile easily, and serve quickly, kudos to them.
I got my tray and went to the table, two lobsters, an ear of corn, one large potato, onion and yes, a hard boiled egg, why the egg you ask? I heard from one of them that it serves (or used to) as a guide to know when the clambake ingredients were ready, once the egg was fully cooked, then so would the rest of the ingredients, whodda thought? I had missed the chowder because I would not move from the work station, more on that later, but this whole shebang does come with a fish chowder. After sitting and staring at the tray of yumminess, I dug into the corn and added the melted butter, it was fine, I did not eat the potato, because I really wanted to eat the lobsters.
The clams themselves are fully bearded and many did not know to clean them before eating them, there were funny expressions at the table! My husband ate anyone’s that did not eat theirs. However, he knew how to clean them. In exchange, I got one of his lobsters, good for me! There is plenty of butter for all, and they come back again and again with more, but truth to tell, I used it on my corn, and only a few pieces of the lobster went in, the lobster was so good, it did not need butter, I believe it is molting season and the lobster shell was so tender, it was easy to break, we basically used our hands to get to the meat. After three lobsters, I was as happy as a pig in mud, but in my case, as a usually landlocked woman in lobster heaven.
I think from what I heard, and when I tasted the fish chowder, that the chowder is what impressed everyone the least. Else, like wow. They serve wine and beer, you do pay for it, but it works! Non-alcoholic beverages such as iced tea and coffee is free. When you go, keep room for the yummy blueberry cake, a true winner. Or bring it home with you, it is great with coffee too!
If you are driving down the Maine Coast, it is worth the detour to come here, but please do reserve ahead of time, they do not take a down payment, it is the honour system, if you reserve, please show up, if you can’t make it, please let them know! There are often people waiting for a cancellation to get on. So please call.
I got to meet Bennie Alice, Wayne and Bob's mother, what a wonderful character, still around at the age of 95, meeting and greeting hundreds of guests.
Next time I speak of a clambake, it will be because I am making it at my house…I think feeding over a 100 should be a cinch!