The Cod Days of Summer

 

...You're my piece of the rock / And I love you, C.C...--George Clinton*

 fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

fig. a:  lightning over Vermont

Things were a little ominous in North Central Vermont, the night before our planned return to Cape Cod.  Our farmhouse was buffeted by torrential rain, the skies were lit up by one electrical storm after another, and the thunder claps were literally earth-shaking.  

But the sun was out and the clouds were dispersing early the next morning when we started to head down east from the Green Mountains, and by the time we got across the Massachusetts state line, the skies were blue, the sun was bright, and the temperatures were blazing.  And a few hours later, when we reached the heart of Cape Cod, things looked exactly the way we've come to expect them:  Seaside Sublime.  

 fig. b:  return to paradise

fig. b:  return to paradise

Cape Cod is a tradition-minded place.  It's a place that's big on its rituals.  And these are among the reasons we love the Cape so much.  We quickly established our own set of Cape Cod rituals a few years ago, when we first started paying summer visits.  (If you've been following us for years, you might even remember these trips in 2013 and 2014.)  And even though we'd had to skip our visit last year (darn it!), we found ourselves falling right back into our "old" routine with ease.  

 fig. c:  outside Parnassus

fig. c:  outside Parnassus

 fig. d:  inside Parnassus

fig. d:  inside Parnassus

These rituals included visiting all our favourite secondhand bookstores--places like Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouth Port, MA (right in the heart of Edward Gorey Country) and Herridge Books in Wellfleet, MA.

 fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

fig. e:  Wellfleet Flea Market

They also included hitting as many thrift stores, rummage sales, and flea markets as we could fit into our schedule, with a Sunday morning visit to the Wellfleet Flea Market being an absolutely mandatory stop.  

Naturally, we made a bee-line to find Beach Plum Mike and visit his amazing Cape Recycled Art Project (a.k.a. C.R.A.P.).  Unfortunately, he didn't have any beach plums this time around (we were much too early), and he'd gotten rid of the large C.R.A.P. signs that had once been prominently on display.  He'd also scrapped the "Local Folk Art" sign that had been there back in 2014.  But we were happy to see that Mike had replaced it with a sizeable "Loco Folk Art" sign.  

To celebrate the persistence of Loco Folk Art on the Cape, we bought another one of Mike's birds and took the Great Speckled Bird home with us.

 fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

fig. f:  Great Speckled Bird

Another one of our rules is to take the time to admire the gardens and the architecture.  A resident of Wellfleet saw me taking a photograph of the American Gothic church you see below and she stopped me and said, "I never thought of taking a picture of this one, but, you're right, it is quite nice."

 fig. g:  better homes & gardens

fig. g:  better homes & gardens

 fig. h:  American Gothic

fig. h:  American Gothic

But our #1 Cape Cod ritual has to do with hitting as many seafood markets as we can possibly squeeze in--places like the Chatham Pier Fish Market (Chatham), Chatham Fish & Lobster Co. (Chatham), Hatch's Fish Market (Wellfleet), Mac's Seafood (Wellfleet), and George's Fish Market (Harwich Port).  The really good ones have the absolute freshest local catch and their prices are always amazing.  

 figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

figs. i & j:  Chatham Fish Pier Market

 fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

fig. k:  Chatham Fish & Lobster Co.

 fig. l:  Hatch's 1

fig. l:  Hatch's 1

These Cape Cod fish markets also tend to have a lot of personality and a wicked sense of humour.  Take the lobster display at Hatch's, for instance:

 fig. m:  Hatch's 2

fig. m:  Hatch's 2

 fig. n:  Hatch's 3

fig. n:  Hatch's 3

And if all that wasn't enough, Cape Cod's fish markets also frequently have kitchens serving up the very best fried clams, fried oysters, and fried shrimp you can find, plus steamers, boiled lobsters, and, of course, lobster rolls--sometimes prize-winning ones.

When we're on the Cape, we go out for seafood just about every day for lunch.  Steamers, oyster po' boys, lobster rolls, shrimp rolls--you name it.  But that's partially because every day around lunchtime we're at one fish market or another buying seafood for later that night.

 fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

fig. o:  seafood spread at Mac's

Sunday is always the night of our Cape Cod Seafood Extravaganza, which usually includes oysters on the half shell; steamers and/or grilled clams; grilled shrimp; sautéed diver scallops; and pan-fried white fish (like flounder or sole) with beurre noisette; plus a whole lot of vegetable sides and a salad.  The revelation of the Extravaganza, and of the whole trip, really, were the grilled clams.  In the past, we've jazzed them up and made things like Clams Casino, and they were phenomenal.  But this time around, I just threw them on the grill, took them off as soon as they opened, and tried to do as little as possible to them--mainly, I just tried to get them onto a platter without losing any of their precious nectar.  Those Cape Cod littlenecks were as fresh as they come--lightly grilled, they were plump, juicy, and bursting with brine.  Truly fantastic.

Traditions are meant to be cherished and maintained, but it's also good to introduce new ones, and to expand upon existing ones.  This time around we upped our oyster game by going right to the source and buying fresh oysters (harvested that very morning), in quantities, directly from the crew.  More specifically, we visited Chatham Shellfish Co. right on the banks of the Oyster Pond River in Chatham, MA, met up with Steve, and picked up 100 oysters for our return trip back to Vermont.

 fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

fig. p:  Chatham Shellfish Co.

 fig. q:  the boat they came in on

fig. q:  the boat they came in on

 figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

figs. r, s, t:  special delivery

 fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

fig. u:  Cape Cod, VT

Talk about the best souvenir ever!  Those Chatham oysters were unbelievably briny, meaty, and sweet.  We knew it was time to leave the Cape and go home, but we just weren't ready to let go of our little piece of the rock entirely.  

Sadly the memories only lasted about two nights.  We polished off over 60 of our oysters not long after getting back to Vermont.  The next night we had no problem finishing off the remaining three dozen.

We miss you, Cape Cod!  But that's okay, because we also know where to find you.

aj

p.s.  Deepest thanks to R & MA and the rest of the crew for letting us crash their paradise.

Thanks also to RJ for the amazing contacts.

And respect and love to P & P for taking care of Boris and the Milk House for us.

* Of course, George wasn't talking about Cape Cod, but that's okay.