Friday, July 21, 2006

Clams away!

It’s summer in Maine and with the warm weather comes the opportunity to get out and experience some of the unique offerings the state has to offer. Being the sucker for festivals that I am, I’m looking forward to this weekend’s Yarmouth Clam Festival.

I’m sure the originators of this celebration of community and small town life in Maine never envisioned this festival being such a major event, when it started 41 years ago. Who would have thought that people could get so wound up over a tiny bivalve? But by Sunday night, over 120,000 folks will have experienced the wonders of the clam.

While the festival doesn’t officially kick off until tonight, with its annual parade, one of the state’s largest parades, those in the know got a sneak preview, last night, at the first ever "It’s Clamtastic Clam Cook-off." For a mere 5 clams (sorry, I couldn’t resist), samplers got to nibble on creations feting the clam, concocted by area restaurants and eateries. Attendees also got a wooden coin that they could deposit in the bucket of their favorite restaurant’s dish. I personally enjoyed the clam dip from Royal River Grillhouse. Chef, Brian Tebben, concocted what he considers “the world’s greatest clam dip.” The dip had a great texture and some secret addition giving it a spicy kick. Served warm on a nice sesame cracker, the creation was a nice accompaniment to the many chowders that other entrants were offering.

Yarmouth is one of Maine’s cuter towns, featuring a Main Street that should be the model of every small town in the land. With its town hall, library, shops and other businesses clustered within a ½ mile radius of one another, it is still a place that promotes the pedestrian. In fact, they have a great walking path that winds its way along the Royal River, before bringing walkers back to Main Street as they complete a comfortable circular route.

While the town has changed some over the years, a spirit of community and volunteerism remains. At one time, the community was ringed by working farms. Like many other areas of Maine, with an abundance of open space, farms have been sold and subdivisions have sprung up. Still, there are family farms nearby (like Toot's; take Rte 115 out of town towards North Yarmouth for some fabulous ice cream) and while the town has moved up the socio-economic ladder, the town has done a good job at keeping snobbishness and social-climbing at bay. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals serve on community boards and committees alongside blue-collar workers and farmers. The food booths that take over the town green, at the heart of downtown during the festival, are a veritable who’s who of the town’s volunteer organizations. For the week of the festival, many town folk take their vacations to work and participate, in order to make this the jewel of Maine’s summer festival circuit.

Whether you are an aficionado of the clam, or not, make a point to spend a day in idyllic Yarmouth, tasting Maine foods, watching the parade, or experiencing a fireman’s muster. With it’s proximity to Portland, there is no shortage of things to do and see.

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