The History and Culture of Seafood in New England


Since the earliest settlers landed in New England, celebrated historic traditions in the region have been built around the seasonality of freshly harvested seafood. Although past the prime of summer, culinary historians believe that the first Thanksgiving offered many seafood selections, including mussels easily plucked from rocks along the shore, bass, lobster, and oysters, all brought to the table by Native Americans.

More appropriate to this time of year, Abigail Adams began the tradition of serving salmon and peas as early as 1773, solidifying the dish as a New England tradition for our country’s very first Fourth of July ceremony. Wild salmon used to be plentiful in the north Atlantic, and the early summer run corresponded perfectly with the region’s first harvest of peas. Records document that Mrs. Adams believed the dish to have a distinctly “American” quality — and so she decided it would be fitting to serve this meal as a tradition each Independence day. In the centuries since, many New England Yankees have kept this tradition alive and well.

As waves of new immigrants entered the region in later decades, they brought rich traditions built around a passion for preparing seasonally harvested seafood. In pursuit of the American Dream, Sicilian and Portuguese immigrants flooded fishing port communities like Gloucester and New Bedford, and their traditions and celebrations quickly became an integral part of the character of these seaside communities. Holidays honoring saints became commonplace, each one involving dining room tables heaping with salted, smoked, baked, and broiled seafood.

St. Peter's Fiesta

St. Peter’s Fiesta — Gloucester, MA
The Blessing of the Fleet

A long weekend at the end of June still brings St. Peter’s Fiesta in Gloucester each year. During this holiday honoring the patron saint of fishermen, fishing boats remain tied up to the dock so local fishermen can take some time with family and friends. Highlights of the holiday include an annual blessing of the fleet, feasts of traditional Italian food, and festivities including a greasy pole competition, and seine boat races. In fact, this holiday has become such a strong tradition that many locals joke the entire summer begins and ends with this one long weekend in June.

More recently, a love for classic and timeless seafood staples from your favorite summer vacation spot has evolved into a New England tradition of its own. Whether your destination each summer is Nubble Light in York, shopping and relaxing on Cape Cod or Cape Ann, or catching the beautiful sunsets on Block Island, the fresh seafood you eat on these trips invokes a certain nostalgia and appreciation for the simple and important things in life. There is something about a perfectly prepared clam roll on a red-and-white checkered tablecloth that will put everything in perspective for even the busiest of individuals. And seafood is fun, too! What’s more exciting than tying on a bib and digging into your first steamed lobster of the year? The value of these traditions will surely grow as our world becomes ever more complex and fast-paced. Enjoying some fresh seafood on your summer vacation can give anyone a chance to unplug, slow down, and get back to basics.

Photo Source: www.goodmorninggloucester.wordpress.com