Quahog was the Staff of Life

by Larry Penny
(East Hampton, NY)

On Sunday it rained all morning, then stopped and the sun popped out — to the delight of a large group of people who had assembled in front of the Donald Lamb Building on Bluff Road in Amagansett in honor of, not some celebrity or politico, but the quahog, of all things.

It was the occasion of the East Hampton Town Trustees’ annual clam contest. Mercenaria mercenaria has thusly been anointed for the 18th year without a miss. And the object of this affair richly deserves its acclaim. It is one of the few organisms that still bears the original Native American name, not the English name, and with good reason.

Those who preceded us here built a large part of their life around the quahog. Other wild food stocks would come and go, migrate away, or dwindle down to a few, but not the clam, it was always around for the taking. You would be hard pressed to find an Indian midden that didn’t contain hard clam shells, or bluish inner parts of them that were used as the coin of the realm, wampum, among different Native American communities along the Northeast Coast in the 1600s

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