Seafood bakes were popular amongst the Atlantic coast-based Wampanoag, Wabanaki, and other Northeast indigenous peoples before Europeans encroached upon their lands, reports New England Today. Early New England settlers adopted the tradition of cooking their bounty on the beach. By the late 1700s, the Old Colony Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts, featured massive seafood bakes to celebrate what they called Forefather’s Day. Now called clambakes, these festive feasts became a cornerstone of leisure-class coastal dining.
New England clambakes teem with clams freshly dug from the murky sand, and mussels and oysters, when they are in season. Rather than boiling or steaming the harvest in enormous metal pots, New Englanders take a primitive approach to their seafood bakes. Early in the day, substantial pits are dug in the deep sand. They are partially filled with firewood with large rocks distributed over top. A fire is set to preheat the rocks.
Once the wood is burned to coals, a layer of wet seaweed is arranged upon the hot rocks to serve as a platform and to encourage steam and smoke, which adds a delicious charred flavor. Cleaned bivalves are arranged on the seaweed. Potatoes, ears of corn, sausages, and sometimes hotdogs (if you’re a Mainer) are added along with another layer of seaweed. When in season, the clambake is topped with a few just-caught lobsters. Per New England Today, the pit is covered with a wet tarp to contain the steam and encourage cooking.