One of the most unique dining experiences in all of Rhode Island is the Castle Hill Clambake. What’s become an annual tradition at the Inn is simply a way to celebrate the cooking and local bounty in a way first utilized by the Native Americans who once thrived along the New England coastline. Naturally, Castle Hill clambakes are a bit more elegant as they are served on our sprawling lawn with plenty of summer cocktails being served along with an array of appetizers. But the cooking of the clambake is pretty much the same technique that they used back in the 1600’s.
The mechanics of a clambake are pretty basic and for the Native Americans, really utilized the landscape of the seacoast. You begin by digging a pit (and the rocky beaches of New England are perfect for digging) and at the bottom of the pit, you add in rocks. The fire gets started on top of the rocks which allows for the stones to heat up over the course of a few hours or so. Once the rocks are burning hot, that’s when the cooking begins.
The first thing to throw on to the burning rocks is the seaweed, specifically rockweed. Rockweed has little pods on the ends which fill with sea water while it is growing in the sea. When it heats up, the pods will rupture and that provides moisture and sea salt to whatever is cooking. That was also how Native Americans would add seasoning to their food and why all the food of a clambake has hints of a delicious briny flavor. The seaweed also allows for the food to cook without being in direct contact wth the heat which makes sure that nothing burns or scorches. After the seaweed is added, the food is placed onto the fire atop its nest of rockweed.
The traditional food of a clambake is a tribute to the bounty of New England. Clams, mussels, potatoes, corn and of course, lobster – all from local sources and fisherman. While lobster is the featured player in the mix, it should be noted that when European settlers reached New England, lobsters were so plentiful that they would reportedly wash ashore in piles up to 2 feet high. Their bounty made them a precious source of sustenance during hard times and the Native Americans would even harvest them just for fertilizing their crops. But they would eat them too and they were an important protein in those early communities and a mainstay in the clambake.
Once the food is loaded onto the hot coals, more seaweed is piled on top creating more steam for the food to cook. It takes about an hour for all to be ready. When it’s time, the dramatic unveiling comes as the seaweed is removed releasing a magnificently fragrant billow of smoke into the blue sky. When the smoke clears, we’re left a wonderful meal ready to eat. Native Americans knew the value of a one-pot meal long before it became fashionable on Pinterest. Best of all, in the colonial times, when the tide rolled back in, it would help was away the fire pit and essentially clean up the cooking area and put the fire out. A clambake basically came with a built in dishwasher.
The tradition continues throughout New England today and nothing quite captures the spirit of summer on the seashore like a clambake. It’s about the food but also a celebration of family and friends, of the harvest that abounds and of the simple joys of warm summer nights. When you come to a clambake at Castle Hill, you get a little bit of all this and more. A Castle Hill clambake comes with the talents of our chefs and culinary team who want to serve you a meal you will never forget. It comes with lively spirits to toast the good fortune we celebrate. It comes with our service team dedicated to making you happy from the moment you step on the grounds. And it comes with the stunning backdrop of one of the most beautiful views in all of Rhode Island.
When we host a clambake at Castle Hill, we like to think we can hear the echoes of the past. Native Americans gathered on the same lands feasting on the same meal and teaching their new Colonial neighbors how to make it. We’re the extension of that knowledge. The Native Americans shared the same sunset, the same ocean breeze and the same love of food and community. We are honored to carry on this tradition and to make sure that the history of this New England mainstay is not forgotten.
Our next clambake is Tuesday, August 21, 2018. Please call 888-466-1355 for reservations.
Some info from History.com