A kid and his bucket

Reminiscing about dining on the Vineyard in the 1950s.

John's Fish Market, left, and Mike Fontes' paint shop, right, when they were located at Five Corners. —Courtesy Chris Baer

There was no Tik Tok back in those days. We had clams and blueberries to keep us busy. We were summer people, our family rented a cottage that belonged to Eddie Cottle down by the entrance to Lambert’s Cove Beach. And when you walked down the path to the beach with the smell of honeysuckle filling your nostrils and the heat of the sun on the sand rising up between your toes, it was about as close to heaven as it would get for a 10-year-old kid from the suburbs. Unless, of course, instead of going down to the beach you went up into the woods behind the house to the forest that decades later would be called Longview and feasted on the acres of wild low-bush blueberries that thrived up there. And that was a different kind of heaven entirely.

Every morning before breakfast we’d pick blueberries for blueberry pancakes and make sure to save some for one of Mom’s pies.  

Mom had a gift for pies. Michelangelo had his ceilings, Annette had her pies, ask anyone, they were that good. It wasn’t that they were just delicious, there was something about the very architecture of the pies that made you walk away saying, “Now, that was an Annette pie.” 

And it was a secret she would never part with, refusing to tell even her own family. And were it not for me listening to an America’s Test Kitchen podcast one day on the beauty of baking with lard her secret would have gone with her to the grave. It also explained why there was always a little tin of lard in Annette’s fridge. Health and fitness be damned, Annette was larding her pies.

We continued going to Lambert’s Cove for several more years, but in the late 50s our good friends from home, Norm and Jane Fuller and their two daughters Melinda (Loberg) and Melissa (Cross), invited us to their little cottage at the end of Herring Creek Road in Vineyard Haven, by the breakwaters on the beach where Lake Tashmoo connects with Vineyard Sound. 

Places like the Crick House by Lake Tashmoo are a vanishing breed. —Melinda Loberg

The Tashmoo house introduced us to a whole new side of the Vineyard. Out the back door was Lake Tashmoo and the wonderful world of bivalves. To us kids, everything about clams and quahogs was not only delicious but inherently funny, starting with the name itself. 

I’ve seen it spelled quahog, quahaug, cohog, apparently you can spell it any way you want, which is in and of itself hilarious. To get quahogs you can either rake for them, which allows you to maintain a certain amount of dignity. Or, you can muck about in the mud and dig for them with your feet — and there is no way to do that while maintaining even a shred of dignity.  

Think John Cleese from Monty Python and the Ministry of Silly Walks. I actually wrote my admissions essay to Brown University on quahogging. Which, among other reasons, explains why I never got accepted. Apparently it was a little downmarket for The Ivy League.

Another aspect of quahogging, at least at the Fuller’s house, was the great pride we took not only in our digging technique (we were foot diggers) but the recipes passed down from Melinda and Melissa’s grandmother; a recipe not only for chowder but for what we called “Quahog Stuffies.”

The Fullers nextdoor neighbor, renown chef and bon vivant Joe Hyde, felt inspired to paint the family recipe for quahog stuffies on the kitchen wall of the house, something that must have irked my mother who preferred to keep her recipes to herself. 

I mentioned that out the back door of the cottage was Lake Tashmoo, but out the front door was a sweeping view of Vineyard Sound and the Middle Ground which offered some of the finest fishing on the coast. In the Middle Ground’s heyday we kids would go out in our little runabout with drop lines and fill up a 55-gallon drum with flounder. We’d pull up on shore, clean the fish, keeping what we’d need and selling whatever was left to John’s Fish Market. Not a bad pay day for a bunch of rag-tag kids who didn’t even have driver’s licenses.

Admittedly, this is beginning to sound like a paean to preteen hunter gatherers, but let it be known that not everything came from the earth and the sea. Two other major food groups we especially enjoyed were jelly donuts from Bart Humphries’ shop in West Tisbury, burgers from the Ag Fair, and soft serve ice cream from what I remember was the Dairy Maid on State Road where Cronig’s is today. Sometime in the 50s, they installed high-tension wires up in the hills above Tashmoo, clearing out large swathes of land which made it possible to walk up to State Road. 

Tina Miller, co-editor of Edible Vineyard magazine, remembers her father calling it onomatopoetically “The Drippy Drool,” which, come to think of it, is a much better name than the Dairy Maid.

Melinda Loberg was kind enough to share her grandmother’s recipe for Quahog Stuffies. 

Quahog Stuffies

Ground quahogs — a bucket
Chopped onion, garlic, peppers, or celery as available
½ - 1 cup breadcrumbs
Add herbs — oregano, thyme — use your imagination
Moisten with some clam broth
Top with Parmesan
Combine and put in shells
Cover with slice of cheese — Havarti with dill and a slice of bacon

Bake at 350 until bacon is cooked. Run under the broiler for a few minutes.

Melinda added this comment that took the recipe to new heights: “Intriguing on so many levels.”