Photo Courtesy of Lynn Fortin Shaw

If you are from Rhode Island, you know what I mean. If you’re from anywhere else, let me explain.

This is a quahog. It is a beautiful and tasty bivalve mollusk found in the waters surrounding Rhode Island and in many other Atlantic coastal communities. It’s an animal we dig up in the bay and estuaries, prepare it, cook it and eat it. If you’ve lived in Rhode Island for more than twenty minutes, you’ve probably eaten one or two of these critters.

For me, a picture of a quahog brings back fond memories of my youth. I think of old times digging clams with my father, eating my mother’s clam cakes and clam chowder, and enjoying my brother’s famous stuffies.

Yes, this simple picture activates my senses. Smells, tastes, and sensations return to me and I’m twelve years old again walking along Mt. Hope Bay in Rhode Island with my father. And all is well with the world.

What initially strikes me as I look at this picture of a quahog is not the clam itself but the mud underneath it. Yes, the mud. Let’s start there. 

There are lots of different kinds of mud in Rhode Island. The mud in the Kickemuit River is different from the mud in Mt. Hope Bay.  And the mud in Conklin’s Cove is different from the mud in the broader bay. All of these varieties of ooziness harbor clams.

In this picture, I suspect this mud is from the Kickemuit River. Having dug clams there, I can smell it’s very “flavor.” I can feel it’s viscosity. I well know how walking in the depths of this mud can suck your boots right off of you. More than once while clam digging, I walked away from a mud encounter with only one boot. Returning later to extricate the lone boot from the jealous and possessive muck. Enough about mud. 

The real fun of quahogs is eating them.

And eat them we did. First, and most importantly, we ate them in clam chowder. 

My mother made the tastiest clam chowder the world has ever known. Didn’t all our Rhode Island mothers? I remember my mother would put a little square of butter on top of the creamy New England clam chowder just before serving it. Real butter. Was it the butter that added the flavor or her Irish love that gave it the extra savory flavor? It’s hard to know. Suffice it to say, the quahogs in this soup were delicious. Now, technically, Rhode Island clam chowder is clear but my Mom was partial to the creamy variety.

Next, we ate quahogs in clam cakes. These little fried balls of dough were made with eggs, flour and baking soda. They aren’t really cakes at all but more like fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside fried dough snacks. My mother made the best clam cakes, too. I think she tossed a little sugar into her batter to give it an extra flavor boost. I think of these things when I see a picture of quahogs.

Lastly, we ate quahogs in, the king of all quahog delights, the “New England Stuffie.” Now, I’d like to suggest my mother made the best stuffies but I’m afraid, while her’s were good,  this family honor falls on the shoulders of my brother. 

Stuffies are the seafood version of Thanksgiving stuffing. The dressing in these creations, however, is quahog based. Once the “stuffing” is prepared it’s piled on the inside of half of a quahog shell and baked. There are all kinds of delightful additions to the quahogs baked into this stuffie. Linguiça, spices, bread, onions, garlic, and other ingredients all make their way into a flavorful New England Stuffie.

Besides the culinary delights quahogs bring to mind, they also remind me of other aspects of my youth. A quahog is a reminder of lazy August Sunday afternoons shared with family and friends on the back deck of my family home.

A day like this began with my mom handing my sister and I a bag of freshly picked corn on the cob and an empty brown paper bag. We’d sit on the porch peeling the corn eager for the afternoon cook-out. Burgers, clam cakes, lobsters, and buttery sweet corn on the cob were all part of the feast and animated the social environment filled with cousins, friends, and family. Quahogs remind me of this.

Many of these memories are in the past for me but Rhode Islanders still enjoy these quahog recipes and family gatherings even today. I’m happy to report, my brother, though no longer living in Rhode Island, still makes a mean New England Stuffie.

So, these are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I see a picture of a quahog. I think I’ll make a point of enjoying some clam cakes and a New England Stuffie next time I’m in Rhode Island. What regional cuisine activates warm memories for you? Feel free to add a comment.

34 thoughts on “Quahogs!

  1. I love to read about memories … it’s history in fun form ! I’ve never heard of a Quahog before but I bet my mother has ! Suppose you could send her a copy? 🙂

    1. I’m surprised you have never heard of the state mollusk of Rhode Island! 😉 Your world has just expanded. Maybe I’ll try to print it out and send it to your mom!

  2. Hi Andrew,
    I enjoyed your story very much!
    I love it when tastes, smells, sights, and sounds light up the limbic system of my brain!

  3. Andrew, here I am, a new friend as Mayflower cousins, now discovering your childhood roots in RI. What a wonderful post…I went to college in RI and met my husband there on the East Side in Providence…but your memories evoke earlier times as a Maine native with Maine parents! My Dad made the best clam chowder, and we always had steamers when we had a lobster feed and yes, with fresh corn on the cob! Nothing better And occasional forays when in Maine to a “fried clam shack,” and as I recall, there was a great one in Tiverton or nearby. Thank you!

    1. Judy, Thank you for your comments! I lived in Maine for a few years and taught high school at Camden Hills Regional High School. Where did you go to school in RI?

      1. Andrew, I started at Pembroke my first year, then took a summer art workshop at URI on the Kingston campus and transferred there. My aunt, also a Maine native, spent her educational career at Bryant College (University) as Chair of the Business Education Department. She married a long-time Rhode Islander with Mayflower ancestry (Richard Warren). So my family ties to “Little Rhody” are filled with many fond memories, continuing until about 15 years ago when this dear aunt moved to a retirement community in NH. PS.—a Fribble, anyone?!?!

        1. Great Connections! My grandmother attended Pembroke. Grandfather, and others, attended Brown. Glad to read of your RI and pilgrim roots!

  4. Love this! Lots of memories out at the raft digging with our toes hoping to find a crab biting our toes…….you brought me back there today……thank you!

  5. This brought back many happy memories for me of summers in Rhode Island, specifically at the Pirate Cove Marina in Portsmouth. Looking back on it now, people would be shocked at how unfettered my childhood was—rowing in my dinghy to the cove where quahogs were so aplenty, I could dig them with my feet.

  6. Loved your memories of quahoging in the Kiki and Mt. Hope Bay! I was born and raised in the East Bay and my dad was a quahogger from way back until he was in his 80’s! He worked the Warren River side though. He taught us to love and respect the Bay and even now, in our 50’s & 60’s my siblings and I regularly go clamming, quahogging & crabbing in these waters (can’t say where. LOL) Thanks for bringing me one day closer to getting out there on the shore.

  7. You went all around my mind and memories and brought back some sweet on My paternal Grandmother was the hunter gatherer and chief cook. She too made the best red and clear chowders and fried the soft shell clams. But my parents introduced me to the half shell. Little necks that raw on the half shell touched with black pepper and drizzle of cider vinegar or the classic sweet chili sauce and horseradish cocktail sauce. Or if on the shore right out of the shell. Nothing any fresher. We did the annual in the ground clambake and I’ve made my share of casino, stuffed and split dressed baked quahogs. Clam sauce on pasta and just recently clam-cakes . Thanks Again

  8. Great piece. Spent many summers on the Kickemuit getting those quahaugs.
    My wife was an expert and could find them with her feet at low tide. My son worked summers on a friend’s boat as a teenager.

    Thanks for the memories.

  9. Will repost to educate my friends here in Florida who do not come from RI. I am always telling them about what I am missing.

  10. Nice story, but the best way to enjoy quahogs is to eat ’em raw right out of the shell. Add a little lemon or cocktail sauce if you like, but there’s nothing better than a freshly harvested, lightly chilled quahog on the halfshell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *