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Colossal Clams, Savory Soup And An Eelgrass Sewing Bee

Publication: The East Hampton Press
By Virginia Garrison   Sep 25, 2012 11:50 AM
Sep 25, 2012 5:46 PM

A new twist this year to the East Hampton Town Trustees’ Largest Clam Contest, held under an Indian-summer sun outside the Donald Lamb Building in Amagansett, was a setup where attendees could weave eelgrass plugs to be planted in Napeague Harbor to help restore the habitat there.

It was a convivial scene, which weaver-volunteers described as a sewing bee or a quilting bee as they stood chatting over tubs of floating grass and poking wet blades of grass into burlap “tortillas,” as staff from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Meadows Program described the plugs. Once the eelgrass had been threaded into the burlap discs, they looked a lot like jellyfish with descending tentacles, although a couple of weavers said they looked like party hats.

“You’re rockin’ and rollin’,” John Botos, a program assistant with the Marine Meadows Program said by way of encouragement to Averill Geus as she gave one a stab.

Karen Hess made a plug, too, as did County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione,

“It’s like hooking a rug,” said one volunteer.

“It’s therapeutic,” said another.

Kim Barbour, also of the Cooperative Extension, explained that this was the first time the Marine Meadows Program had come to East Hampton Town. In a partnership with the East Hampton Town Trustees, eelgrass was removed from a healthy part of Napeague Harbor—sort of like a blood donation, Ms. Barbour said—to form plugs for a less-healthy section. Eelgrass is important to the survival of bay scallops and several types of finfish, which is why, Ms. Barbour said, “it helps for the public to get their hands wet.” The plugs were to be “planted” in the harbor on Tuesday, September 25; the hope is that the trial crop will thrive through the winter.

Patience! Here they are, the winners of the Largest Clam Contest, whose names were announced to a somewhat more uproarious crowd under a nearby tent while the weaving continued:

The overall winner was Linda Calder, with a 2 pound, 9 ounce monster from Napeague Harbor. “That’s what happens when you retire,” commented one spectator as Ms. Calder carted off a basket containing a plaque, T-shirt and vodka bottle, among other treasures, while her companion toted a clam rake.

“It was extremely close this year,” said Trustee Stephanie Talmage. No kidding: Nancy Peppard had a 2 pound, 8.8 ounce hardshell she’d lugged from Lake Montauk. She won first for that body of water, of course.

Cliffton Keyes won for Three Mile Harbor (1 pound, 10.5 ounces) and Henry Flohr for Accabonac Harbor (1 pound, 1.5 ounces). Winners in the junior category were Edward Hoff, with a 2 pound, 5.4 ounce specimen from Napeague Harbor, Joe Hawkins, whose 1 pound, 6.7-ounce used to live in Three Mile Harbor, and Avery Charron, who left the bottom of Accabonac Harbor a little lighter after removing a 1 pound, 0.7 ounce clam.

Jim Sullivan, who won first prize in the chowder contest in

both

the red and white categories, declared that Three Mile Harbor is his choice for clams, as he finds those in Napeague Harbor a bit gritty. “I’m ready to go against Bobby Flan,” Mr. Sullivan boasted. He names all his 
chowders: Bonac Bubby Chowder for the Manhattan, Summer White and Winter White 
for the New England. He puts barley in the latter, he said, explaining that the Winter White is heavy and sticks to your bones as the soups of the early Bonackers did.

“I’m not skimping on clams,” he said when asked for his secret ingredients. His wife, June Sullivan, said he pretty much wings his recipes, writing down only a few main ingredients. “I’m not a huge influence,” she said, adding, “He just loves to go clamming and just loves his clams.”

“I use a lot of love,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Also at the contest, members of CfAR, the Citizens for Access Rights group, presented the Trustees with an oversized check for $5,000. The donation will be used to pay legal fees for access lawsuits on the Napeague stretch, Dianne McNally, the Trustees’ leader, explained.

“Thank you for doing this; thank you, Buttercup, for waiting,” one woman told the Marine Meadows people, and then her dog, as finished up her eelgrass plug.

“One last swim in the ocean,” one man told the child at his side before they left.

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