Spice up summer at shellfish festivals

Jody Feinberg

You can tell a lot about a place by its food festivals. Summer in New England means shellfish festivals, which draw thousands of visitors to indulge in the bounties of the sea and to cheer on the competitions among chefs and shell shuckers.

 From June through October, there are festivals each month, starting with the Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., on Saturday and ending with the Oyster Fest in Wellfleet on Oct. 18-19. In between, clams, lobsters and scallops each have dedicated festivals.

 Like mountain climbers who set out to ascend every 4,000-foot peak in New England, shellfish lovers can claim their own accomplishment by visiting every festival this summer. Follow the catch and you’ll eat the freshest seafood while visiting vacation destinations throughout New England. Many festivals also entertain with band performances, children’s games and rides, and juried arts and crafts shows.

 Closest to home, the 27th annual Chowderfest in Boston has a loyal following and is the most popular event in the six-day Boston Harborfest, said event coordinator John Gauthier.

 "It’s a New England tradition and people come in droves,'' Gauthier said. "You can try the chowder from all the restaurants, and eat as much as you want.''

 About 12,000 clam chowder eaters are expected to vote for "Boston’s Best Chowder'' from the creations of about a dozen restaurants. While chow hounds rest their taste buds, roving performers will entertain.

 If you want unlimited chowder sooner than July, head to Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off on Saturday in Newport. Along with titles for Best Clam Chowder, chefs compete for Best Seafood and Best Creative, as well as Best Clam Cake. There are three stages of entertainment.

 Clams – fried, steamed and made into cakes – are just part of the draw of the 43-year-old Yarmouth Clam Festival, July 18-20 near Freeport, Maine. The largest festival in the state, it attracts about 150,000 people who gather for the parade, Maine State Clam Shucking Contest, juried arts shows, carnival, fireworks and more than 400 performers.

 "It’s still a very traditional fair and a big deal in Maine,'' said Amy Green, director of communications for the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, which runs the festival and donates all proceeds to the community’s nonprofit organizations. "And the shucking competition is very exciting when the professionals get going really fast. There’s a woman who can shuck 22 clams in one minute.''

 As the oldest festival, the 61st annual Maine Lobster Festival, July 30 to Aug. 3, also has the quirkiest event – a lobster crate race.

Contestants compete to walk across the most partially submerged lobster crates without falling into the chilly water. Indulge yourself in lobster at its freshest, whether simply boiled or creatively baked and stuffed. Located in a picturesque town, the festival showcases some of the best in New England entertainment.

 For a festival kids are bound to love, head to the Charlestown Chamber Seafood Festival, Aug. 1-3 in Rhode Island. The event combines a seafood extravaganza with amusement rides and children’s shows.

 The Hampton Beach Seafood Festival, Sept. 5-7 in New Hampshire, attracts 150,000 people. More than 50 restaurants serve their seafood, more than 15 bands perform on two stages, and fireworks explode. There are chef demonstrations; a children’s area with continuous entertainment; and arts and crafts vendors.

 The newest event is the Shellfish Shindig, Sept. 14 in Boston, where shell fisherman will showcase the bounty from Massachusetts waters – oysters, quahogs and soft shell clams. There also will be beer and shellfish pairings and entertainment.

 And just when the crowds have left the Cape, the Scallop Festival Sept. 19-21 in Bourne and the OysterFest in Wellfleet are two reasons to return.

 Sweet and succulent scallops, baked, sauteed or deep-fried, are the highlights of Bourne’s festival, which draws about 40,000 people and features a juried arts and crafts show; rides and games for children; and musical entertainment along the banks of Buzzards Bay.

 The eighth annual Wellfleet OysterFest, Oct. 18-19, celebrates the town’s famous oysters and its deep-rooted shell fishing traditions. The town center becomes a street party with oyster vendors, marine exhibits and musical entertainment. The Oyster Shuck-Off pits amateurs and professionals against each other in two rounds of shucking to win $1,000. Some have been fast enough to compete nationally.

 There’s also a spelling bee, child and adult road races, children’s area and a performing arts program, Oyster Follies. And you can learn how to bring out the best in oysters and clams at daily cooking demonstrations.

The Patriot Ledger

Good to know:

 Paralytic Shellfish Poison toxin (also known as "Red Tide'') has closed many shellfish beds along the South Shore, but bays in Duxbury, Kingston and Plymouth remain open for harvesting.

 Bay and harbor areas often remain open during such closings because tides carry the toxin down the coastline, said Michael Hickey, chief biologist in charge of shellfish management for the state Division of Marine Fisheries, in an interview last week.

FESTIVALS

Schweppes Great Chowder Cook-Off, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Newport Yachting Center, 4 Commercial Wharf, Newport, R.I. Admission is $15 (or $10 in advance) and free for ages 11 and younger. For more information, call 401-846-1600 or go to www.newportfestivals.com.

Chowderfest, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 6, City Hall Plaza, Boston. Admission is $10 adults, $7 for 11 and younger. For more information, call 617-227-1528 or go to www.bostonharborfest.com.

Yarmouth Clam Festival, July 18-20, Main St., Yarmouth, Maine. Admission is free. Clam shucking contest is 11:15 a.m. July 19 on the lawn of the public library at 215 Main St. For more information, call 207-846-3984 or go to www.clamfestival.com.

Maine Lobster Festival, July 30 to Aug. 3, Rockland Harbor Park, Rockland. Admission is free July 30; $7 before 3 p.m. and $10 after 3 p.m. July 31-Aug. 2; and $7 Aug. 3. Ages 6-11 is $2 all days, and free for 5 and younger. The lobster crate race is Aug. 3. For more information, call 800-LOB-CLAW or go to www.maine lobsterfestival.com.

Charlestown Chamber Seafood Festival, Aug. 1- 3 Ninigret Park, 4470 Old Post Road, Route 1A, Charlestown, R.I. Admission is $7 adults, free for 12 and younger. Free parking. For more information, call 401-364-4031 or go to www.charlestownrichamber. com/seafoodfestival.

Hampton Beach Seafood Festival, Sept. 5-7, Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach, N.H. Admission is $5 daily or $8 for two days adults and free for 12 and younger. Fireworks Sept. 6. For more information, call 603-926-8718 or go to www.hamptonchamber. com/seafoodfestival.

Shellfish Shindig, noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 14, Boston Beer Company Brewery, 30 Germania St.,

Jamaica Plain. Admission is $10. For more information, call 800-372-1131 or go to www.samadams.com.

Bourne Scallop Festival, Sept. 19-21, Buzzards Bay Park, 270 Main St., Bourne. Admission is $5 adults and free for 12 and younger. For more information, call 508-759-6000 or go to www.capecodcanalchamberorg/scallopfest.

Wellfleet OysterFest, Oct. 18-19, Main Street, Wellfleet. Admission is free. Shucking contest at 1 p.m. each day. For more information, call 508-349-3499 or go to www.wellfleet oysterfest.org.