Rhode Island First Day of Issue Covers
Ratification of the Constitution - Rhode Island Bicentennial
Issued May 29, 1990 in Pawtucket, RI - Scott #2348
Stamp Design is the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI

Beautiful Hand Painted Cachet by Russ Benning
Depicts a Rhode Island Fisherman with Lobster Buoy to the Left

Facts and History of the Rhode Island Quahog

Lobsters, while fished for commercially in Rhode Island are not the shellfish that us Rhodys are noted for. The shellfish that I miss the most since leaving the state is known as a Quahog. The name Quahog comes from the Narragansett Indian word  for the hard shall clam, (poquauhock). They are also known locally, depending on their size as "Little Necks, "Cherrystones," "Topnecks," and "Chowder Clams."

Quahogs can live as long as 40 years and reach a length of over 4 inches. Their age can be determined by the number of rings on the shell. Keeper's must be at least 1 inch in thickness. 

When I was growing up in Saunderstown, RI, almost every time we went to the beach we would take along a burlap sack for gathering Quahogs. We would wait for low tide and then wade out to about chest high water. Planting our heels firmly on the bottom we would rotate rapidly back and forth digging into the soft sand on the bottom. The clams could be felt as hard objects beneath our heels. When one was found we would dip down and place it in the sack.

Tonguing is the preferred method of most of our local fishermen. The clam tong consists of two long wooden handles, (stales) and two wire mesh baskets with angled teeth for digging into the sand on the business end. Another method in general usage was dredging, however this method severely depleted the existing stocks and today is highly restricted. 

Rhode Island supplies over a fourth of the country's annual commercial catch and the Quahog is the official state shellfish. Most of the lower bay is open to Quahogging, however most of the upper bay is permanently closed to shell fishing due to pollution.

Another Clam found in Rhode Island waters is the soft shell or steamer clam.  There is no finer eating than a big kettle of steamers dipped in butter sauce. Steamers are found all along the shoreline in marshy to slightly rocky beach areas and can be located by their distinctive squirt holes. We used a clam rake to gather them when I was younger. My brother says that he now uses a bathroom plunger. The plunger is placed over the squirt hole and used the same way you would unclog your plumbing. The suction created sucks the clam to the surface and also helps to keep the shell from breaking. 

When I was stationed in southern Maryland, I tried their version of the steamer clam called "Nanos." They are quite similar to their northern cousins, although slightly larger and with a longer neck.

My grandmother made some of the best clam and fish chowders in New England.
(Could I say anything else?)

Here is her recipe for New England Clam Chowder:

Hearty New England Clam Chowder
(12 servings)

2 quarts chopped quahogs (from live clams steamed open)
4 medium onions, chopped
2 cups clam juice (drained from clams)
2 quarts of half & half cream
1 pound Salt Pork (diced)
18 medium potatoes (diced)
1 quart of whole milk
salt & pepper
and flour to thicken
real butter

Steam your clams until they just open,  strain and reserve 2 cups of the clam juice.
Shuck and chop the clams and set aside.
Fry the salt pork until it just begins to turn then add the chopped onions and continue frying until they are a light golden brown.
Place the salt pork and onions in a large kettle along with the potatoes and just enough water to cover them.
After the potatoes are done add the clams and juice and cook for an additional 5 minutes over low heat.
Add the milk and half & half cream and simmer for one hour being careful not to bring it to a boil.
(Do not let it curdle!)
Add flour as a thickening and salt and pepper to taste.
After spooning the chowder into bowls place a large pat of butter on the surface of each serving and allow to melt.


1. Some folks also sprinkle paprika over the surface of the chowder.

2. If you add anything else such as celery it is quite simply NOT a New England chowder. 

SEE ALSO: Rhode Island Superlatives

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