On and off the Fork with Charity Robey

COURTESY PHOTO
Charity Robey and Jane Lear present “Bay to Table: Clams in Oysterponds” on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. at the Orient Yacht Club.

Island writer and the Reporter Off the Fork columnist Charity Robey will be venturing across the moat next weekend to speak about local clams with fellow journalist, Jane Lear. The Reporter caught up with Ms. Robey to learn some fun facts about clams. 

Why clams?

Last year, Jane Lear (an editor at Gourmet Magazine for many years, and now editor of Feed Me magazine) and I joined forces to do a program for the Oysterponds Historical Society Bay to Table series on bay scallops. When they asked us to come back this year to talk about clams, we figured they must have enjoyed the sautéed scallops-tasting and talk as much as we did.

Can you tell us about your history as a food writer?

I’ve been writing about food and farming and fishing on the East End of Long Island for magazines and newspapers for about five years. I started out writing the column for the Shelter Island Reporter that you edit now, Off the Fork. I’m also a programming chair for the Culinary Historians of New York.

How did the research go for this talk? Did you have to start fresh or did you already have knowledge on the topic from past work?

I’ve written and researched seafood, especially bay scallops over the years, but this is the first time I’ve focused on local hard clams.

What sources do you use to find information on local clams?

The Oysterponds Historical Society, The Shelter Island Historical Society, The New York Public Library Menu Collection and several excellent books, including Mac Griswold’s The Manor; Kathy Neustadt’s Clambake; Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop and Jasper White’s 50 Chowders. 

Can you share one or two interesting facts that you learned?

William Winters of East Marion may have “invented” Manhattan clam chowder in the 1870s. The practice of using tomatoes in clam chowder seems to have become common in several places in New York at the same time, and he was definitely one of the early adopters. And he did call it Manhattan Clam Chowder.

What are some clam-eating traditions unique to our area?

Clam pie. You really only find it on the East End, seems to be centered around East Hampton. A lot of people have family recipes for clam pie, and I’ve come across it in old cookbooks. You rarely see it in a restaurant. It’s a homemade dish.

So there’s New England and Manhattan clam chowder. Is there a type specific to the North Fork?

The North Fork is in a unique geographic position — equidistant from the Manhattan tomato tradition and the much older, New England cream tradition. So you find both out here, plus the “pink” variation (tomatoes and cream) and the style sometimes called Rhode Island which is heavy on the clam broth and no tomatoes or cream. 

What’s your favorite way to eat clams?

Raw!   

Do you enjoy going clamming?

I’ve never gone clamming, unless you count the clams I’ve foraged by feeling around with my feet.

Catch Ms. Robey and Ms. Lear presenting “Bay to Table: Clams in Oysterponds” on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. at the Orient Yacht Club. The event is presented by Oysterponds Historical Society to celebrate and share North Fork culture and heritage by preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the history of the Orient and East Marion communities, and their place in national history. Tastings of clam chowder will be available. Admission: $25 for one person; $40 for two people.

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