Return to Content

Clambake on Prudence Island

Clambake on Prudence Island
0 votes, 0.00 avg. rating (0% score)
Clambake on Prudence Island
Photo/Art by Erik Rank
The Days line up for the annual family feast, fresh from the bake.

Photo/Art by Erik Rank
The Days line up for the annual family feast, fresh from the bake.

SLIDESHOW: Clambake
Read more:Yankee‘s tips for a clambake
Find a clambake company

Nearly three decades ago, in October 1980, Yankee ran a festive story about the Day family and their annual clambake on Prudence Island — a mostly summer community located in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. Bill and Sue Day are the backbone of this ritual, but they have lots of help — after all, they feed more than 150 people at this gathering each year. Their sons — Skip, Neil, Tom, and Perry — are old hands at this, but friends camp out in the morning here, too, ready to help, knowing that ahead of them this day there’ll be danger, fresh seafood, sunshine, good company, and, of course, beer.

Preparation starts early, and the bake will take hours. Despite a rain-soaked night, “it’s a perfect day,” says Bill, looking out at the shimmering blue water. A traditional clambake is a mountain of clams, lobsters, corn, potatoes, and sausages steamed to perfection, but there’s no specific cooking time, and no easy way to check for doneness as the shellfish, meat, and veggies cook. “Days and days of preparation and cooking under dangerous circumstances,” notes Bill, “and you don’t know until the tarp is pulled away whether it’ll be a nice meal or a pile of expensive garbage.”

The first essential step is to gather the smooth, round rocks that will be heated to do the actual cooking. These stones are crucial, and not every one gathered makes it to the firepit: Any cracks may lead to an explosion, as water gets into the fissure, heats up, and creates a lot of pressure. It’s hazardous for a variety of reasons, the least of which is the possibility of the whole bake’s toppling over.

Most clambakes are done in pits dug into the sand, but the Days use a rocky ledge in front of their property. They roll weeks’ worth of old newspapers and pile them neatly into a 10-foot-square section on the flattest part of the largest flat boulder, followed by kindling, larger pieces of wood, and finally a carefully placed pile of those rocks. “You have to stack them just so,” explains Tom, “or they topple over orspread out, and the heat isn’t strong enough.” Bill lights the pile and it quickly becomes a bonfire 15 feet high. The rocks will “cook” for an hour or more until they’re screaming hot and most of the wood turns to ash.

As the rocks heat up, Sue supervises a team of chowder makers, hard at work chopping potatoes, onions, bacon, and quahogs. In gargantuan soup pots set on camp stoves, they render the bacon and cook the onions and potatoes in the precious fat. They add milk and the juice from the clams and cook it all down to Sue’s liking. Just before serving, she’ll add the chopped clams and cook them briefly “so they don’t get chewy.” Meanwhile, a second group is shucking hundreds of ears of corn.

Bill determines when the rocks are hot enough to start cooking. Then a team of sunburned men, brave by nature — made braver still by a steady flow of beer — descend on the glowing stones and rake the ash and the bigger chunks of wood out and into the ocean. Occasionally an errant rock rolls down into the water and explodes with an angry hiss.

They build the bake in less than 10 minutes. A thick layer of Maine rockweed goes on top of the stones, providing the steam and much of the briny flavor. The lacy bundles begin to smoke and pop. Wire pallets filled with food are hoisted on top of the incendiary rocks and seaweed, billowing with white smoke: two bushels of steamer clams first, followed by 50 pounds of potatoes and onions, then chorizo sausage, ears and ears of corn, 25 pounds of cod fillets, and 150 lobsters. From the sea the men drag a tarp, heavy from soaking in the saltwater, and place it on top of the four-foot-high pile, securing it with rocks. “A lot of drama,” laughs Bill. “Now we wait.”

In the two hours it takes for the bake to “do its thing,” boatloads of guests arrive, and the green lawn starts to hum with chatter and music. With every visitor, the coolers get fuller and the food table nearly buckles under the weight of all the pizzas, antipasto trays, dips, chips, and party platters. Some of the kids do belly flops off the docks into the bracing water, while others search for crabs and mussels in the crevices of rocks. Babies take tentative first steps toward full-fledged walking, and cousins catch up with one another. Other folks take a well-deserved nap in the warm sun.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Yankee Magazine Advertising

Bring New England Home
plus, get the Tablet Edition FREE!

In this issue: Our Favorite Fall Drives

  • Sweet & Savory Apple Recipes
  • The Mohawk Trail at 100
  • New England's Best Cider Festival
  • Man vs. Seal on Cape Cod
Subscribe Today and Save 44%

4 Responses to Clambake on Prudence Island

  1. Carol Fitzpatrick June 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    Oh what wonderful memories your extended families will have over the years. My husband and I had friends from Massachusetts that often spoke of have clam bakes. The listeners were always left with a wish they could have participated also. Bottoms up!

  2. Doreen Jones June 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    I’ve been away from New England since 1994 and miss it more and more. It remains in my heart as home. Stories about clambakes like this make me miss it more. How wonderful it must be to gather like this. The memories will keep you warm for years.

    My Grampa used to make the broth style chowder..no milk ..oh how I miss that and kick myself as I never learned how he did it. If I could only make it now I’d still have my New England but I thankfully I have my Yankee Magazine.com.

  3. Henry Drummond June 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    I have enjoyed many a sweet steamer from Prudence Island when a friend, John Schaefer was kind enough to bring us some from the island while he a nd his wife were there with family.

  4. Jan Mahon August 22, 2010 at 3:44 am #

    OHH! The Memories, Would Love to be eating @ a ClamBake right now. … OHHH!

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2013, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111

fall-eguide-2014-600x350