Bonac Clam Pie - Gastro Obscura

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Bonac Clam Pie

Long Island's rich history of clamming is packed inside a creamy, sea-scented pie.

Long Island’s East End boasts a long history of clamming within its local bays, along with a rich regional menu built around the briny bivalve. Among the most beloved of local dishes is Bonac clam pie, a centuries-old, thrifty comfort food borne from the bay. Packed with clams, cream or milk, potatoes, and onions, the soupy pastry has been described as “clam chowder in a pie crust.”

But it’s so much more than that. The history of savory dinner pies stretches back to medieval times in Europe, where pies played an integral role in the culinary culture. Eventually, these pies migrated to the United States’ East Coast along with settlers, incorporating local foods such as clams and potatoes. But, according to historians, the clam pie rarely appears in regional cookbooks throughout the 18th century, except on Long Island. Elsewhere, some speculate, there was a stigma surrounding clam-eating, claiming the bivalve was food fit for the poor, better used for baiting, and associated with indigenous communities who had been harvesting it for centuries. But the East End had a different relationship with the clam. “Bonackers,” those descended from the first white settlers of Long Island, lived around the shellfish-rich Accabonac Harbor. (Accabonac is derived from the Algonquin word for “root place.”) Though still considered thrifty fare, clams have been more deeply baked into the Bonac culinary tradition, and clam pie was among the most sophisticated ways to eat it. 

Bonac clam pie recipes have often been passed down from one family member to the next, so specific ingredients and methods tend to vary across surnames and generations. Almost all recipes, however, feature a filling of chopped, ground, or whole clams, (often quahogs or a combination of hard and soft-shell clams), along with a mix of potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, parsley, mustard seed, tomatoes, eggs, and heavy cream or milk. The crust is bready and a little delicate, often allowing the clammy filling to bubble over as it bakes. Upon emerging from the oven, according to Edible East End, the steaming final product emits a wonderful whiff of the bay.

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