Quahog may be the fictional community where the Griffins of the comedic animated television show Family Guy reside, but to native Rhode Islanders, the quahog is taken far more seriously. Quahogs are a type of clam found along the Atlantic Coast. Historically, beads made from the shell called “wampum” were used by Native Americans as decorative trading items, and served as money for the European settlers. The shell of the northern quahog is the official shell for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Inhale that from your peace pipe!
In fact, Rhode Island-based cartoonist, Don Bosquet, has made more than a lucrative living paying homage to the quahog. His cartoons are regularly published in The Providence Journal, he’s written a cookbook, and has his own greeting card collection.
Bull raking the wampum playing the shell game, alright!
Well, this writer has done more than a prominent cartoonist to illustrate her love for quahogs with her own Ocean State surreal serial, “Dances with Quahogs,” gingerly stepping over quahog beds, and mucking it up in the Sixties.
Friends of ours had a summer home in Wickford Cove, necessitating we visit during low tide and wait out the tide before leaving because the dirt road winding to their home would disappear. No matter to me because I spent many an adolescent Sixties summer day digging for quahogs, prime time during low tide. Not the most glamorous of pastimes, I’d slip into a pair of old laceless sneakers for the trek onto the stones and into the muckety-muck, dancing with quahogs.
My girlfriend wielded a quahog rake, in essence, a curved pitchfork, to dig. Not me– I couldn’t be bothered sifting rocks from quahogs or cherrystones (small quahogs) which had to be thrown back in lieu of paying a fine if you were caught by the patrols. I used my bare hand to scrape the cove floor, wrench free a mud-covered treasure, rinse, and examine it for quahog verity before depositing my find inside a bucket of salt water so it wouldn’t dehydrate.
What do you do with these quahogs?
My grandfather was known to pull one out of the water, slice open the bi-valve shell with his pocketknife, and slurp the quahog inside–sort of Rhode Island sushi. I liked mine straight from a boiling pot which rendered the shells open for you to pick out the quahog, dip in butter, pop into your mouth, chew, and swallow without thinking of the organs you mashed down on. Once kitchen ready, my mother also threw a bunch of quahogs from the pot into her homemade spaghetti sauce which added a robust flavor. Ironically, my sister, the adventurous daredevil in the family, didn’t have the stomach for any of this.
In Rhode Island’s flailing economy, I propose to “raise the bar” with our official shell. If worms or scorpions are traditionally added to bottles of Mezcal before distribution, why not a quahog martini? A squirt of lemon or a shot of Tabasco not only adds integrity to the quahog, but assures its state legacy will be preserved without necessarily “dancing with quahogs”.
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