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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: June 30, 2013

A Maine classic: Cabbage Island Clambakes

For more than 50 years, Cabbage Island Clambakes have operated almost every summer on postcard-pretty Cabbage Island, just off of Boothbay in Linekin Bay. And it’s not just for tourists.

Written by: Susan Axelrod

NOTE: Originally posted in June, 2013.

This was a real nice clambake,
We’re mighty glad we came.
The vittles we et
Were good, you bet,
The company was the same.
Our hearts are warm, our bellies are full,
And we are feeling prime.
This was a real nice clambake,
And we all had a real good time.

It’s highly unlikely that those catchy lyrics are familiar – the chorus to a song from the 1956 movie “Carousel.”

“Real nice clambakes,” however, should be familiar – this is Maine, after all – and one of the best happens daily (twice on Saturdays and Sundays) in a location right out of that old movie, which was filmed, as it just so happens, in Boothbay Harbor.

The main lodge at Cabbage Island. Susan Axelrod photo

For more than 50 years, Cabbage Island Clambakes have operated almost every summer on postcard-pretty Cabbage Island, just off of Boothbay in Linekin Bay. Now, before you think (I did) that taking a boat to an island for a clambake sounds a little goofy (i.e. just for tourists), it’s actually a great time. And the food’s good too.

Part of the Windjammer Days schooner fleet moored off of Cabbage Island in Linekin Bay. Susan Axelrod photo

Part of Boothbay Harbor’s annual Windjammer Days festival is a Cabbage Island Clambake for the captains, crew and passengers of the windjammers anchored out in Linekin Bay, plus assorted people involved with the festival, one of whom graciously invited me. I was ferried to the island by Harbormaster Peter Ripley and his wife Mary on their fishing boat, “Breakaway;” Cabbage Island also has its own boat, the “Bennie Alice,” which leaves from the harbor.

Boothbay Harbor Harbormaster Peter Ripley and his wife Mary, aboard their boat “Breakaway.” Susan Axelrod photo

Cabbage Island is beautiful, and having four big schooners moored just offshore made the scenery even better. As crews brought passengers to the dock, we wandered around the 5 1/2 acre island to find the perfect picnic table. Some are right outside the main lodge (where you will enjoy your lobster if it rains) others are scattered about, so you don’t feel as if you are eating in the outdoor version of a dining hall. Staff members took orders for drinks, generously poured into plastic cups.

Susan Axelrod photo

This deck is one of many places to enjoy your lobster.

The “bake” on the rocks.

We watched the “bake” steaming under tarps over a wood fire until the first bell rang, indicating fish chowder was being served. The classic recipe: salt pork, onion, potato and fish in a milky broth served super hot; it was perfect.

Perfect fish chowder. Susan Axelrod photo

The rest of the meal was just as well-prepared: lobster (we had just one, but CIC usually serves two per guest); steamer clams, baked potato, a whole onion, ear of corn and a hardboiled egg. Wayne Moore, who with his brother Bob is the second owner of Cabbage Island Clambakes, explained that eggs were traditionally placed on the top of the layers of a lobster bake to act as a sort of thermometer – when they are hard-cooked; everything is done.

Lobster assembly line.

The perfect lobster dinner

Dessert is another Maine classic – blueberry cake – served in hefty slices.

The whole thing costs $59.95 per person (including the boat ride on the Bennie Alice out and back, but not including drinks, tax and tip). You’d pay at least that for dinner in many Portland restaurants; in my opinion, the experience is absolutely worth the price.

You can even sing the song on the way home – here’s the whole thing:

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