36. The Food of the Cape

When I took the job at AT&T, part of the move was to rent the apartment that was available in a building that Elinor owned.  Her mother (Gram) lived on the first floor, her nephew Gary lived on the second floor, and I would then live on the third floor.  And that is where Karen and I lived when we were first married.

After a few months of married life the weather was warming, the Cape was reopening for the season, and Karen was able to experience some of the specialties of the Cape.  She would have her first fried clam plate, her first fried scallop plate, and her first lobster roll.  Then there were many places that a great cup of clam chowder was always ready and there were dozens of fresh made stuffed Quahogs ready as your appetizer.  To most people who live inland, the term “fresh fish” means that it hasn’t spoiled yet.  To us it meant two things.  It meant that it had been caught in the last day or so and that it had never been frozen.  If nothing else endears you to the Cape, the food will get you every time.

For a cheap meal we would walk about 4 blocks down to the lobster boat docks as the boats came in.  I would ask them if they had any culls today.  A cull is a lobster with only one claw or some other imperfection that would prevent it from being sold commercially.  So generally the lobstermen would sell them off for lobster salad or other lobster dishes.  But sometimes they had some leftovers, which they were happy to sell to any locals that happened by.  Typically we could get two-pound culls for about $2 each and then we would stop and get some fresh corn grown locally.  Karen was really learning how to eat “New England Style.”

Living so near the massive New Bedford fishing fleet certainly had it’s advantages.  New Bedford had been the home of fishing fleets for hundreds of years because of the bounty that was the George’s Bank.  Where there is a fleet, you will always find ship builders and there were many along the New England coast.  They built the whaling ships, the clipper ships, and many of the first ships for the new US Navy.  And in Bristol, RI Nathaniel Herreshoff (Capt. Nat) would build and rule the America’s Cup races for many years.  But the freshness and variety of seafood that was readily available every day was the big surprise for Karen.  Supermarkets like Stop & Shop, A&P, and Shaw’s were great for a lot of things, but seafood you bought at stores that were attached to the fleet and meat you bought at the butcher.

Around 1972, two of my cousins by marriage, the twins Mark and Mike opened a terrific restaurant called the Huttleston House in Fairhaven (now gone).  Mark would toast our engagement with a bottle of champagne and we had our wedding reception there.  Another favorite of ours was the Daniel Webster Inn in Sandwich providing old world charm and elegance with some of the best food around.

We would begin a tradition of attending the Yule Log Ceremony at the Public House at Sturbridge Village every year.  The ceremony, based in the Druid traditions of passing the fire from this year into the next at the winter solstice takes place around Dec. 15.  Since that was our anniversary, and since we were members at Sturbridge Village, it was a great choice to begin the celebrations of the Christmas season.  When our daughter was born, it would begin another tradition where I would pick her up, walk her, and sing Silent Night to her.  Even today she reminds me of it.

But the campaign that Elinor and Barbara had waged against Paula and I spilled over.  For Elinor’s part, Karen was not Sue, and Sue was her favorite.  Elinor and Sue would be close friends for 40 years until Elinor passed away.  It was nearly impossible to dislike Karen so the attention was shifted to me.  My father loved Karen and thought we made a terrific couple.  But Elinor always had something to say at every gathering that would put an edge on things.  There was always some political agenda and often Barbara would join in.  And so when the offer came for me to transfer to Virginia, we knew it would be a good move for us.  We would only be two hours from my in-laws and would build a wonderful life together.

We tried to find substitutes for the things we had in New England.  We joined Colonial Williamsburg and enjoyed the 4 seasons they had there.  We especially liked the Christmas season celebrations with the special food, plays, and entertainment.  It was easy to put yourself in the era of the founding fathers after just a few short days there. Eating at the various taverns and playing the games with the children was always a great time.  But it really wasn’t the same.  Those first few years together always cement the memories in a way like no other time.

While in other ways it was relatively easy for us to transfer to Virginia and start a new life here 20 years ago, we always miss the traditions and talk about the food.  Any opportunity that comes along where we can visit the Cape area always brings with it thoughts of the foods and traditions we enjoyed so much in our first years together.

© J T Weaver

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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7 Responses to 36. The Food of the Cape

  1. Freshly pressed “fresh fish.”

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  2. Have always wanted to go the Cape for the sheer beauty of it, but now I see the real draw is the food! I see your heart will always be there.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      For me that’s what I miss the most. A Dunkin’ Donuts on very corner, a local breakfast place next to each one of those, a local seafood place next to that, drool. A little factoid: There are no fast food restaurants in my home town, none, never have been. The town council would never allow it. 🙂

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  3. Sarah says:

    My favorite was Oxford Creamery. You would get the fried clam plate and I would get the fried scallop plate to split with a strawberry frap.

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  4. Used to live in Connecticut and enjoyed it totally. Nice story. I also worked for AT&T.

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