Dark skies and the threat of rain could do nothing to dampen the spirits of the hundreds gathered outside the Donald Lamb Building in Amagansett on Sunday at noon for the East Hampton Town Trustees’ annual Largest Clam Contest.
Forty-two contestants sat patiently as each of their clams was weighed and measured by Syd Bye, Mike Bye, and Lanny Rost, all of whom perform duties such as operation of the pump-out boats used in the waterways under the trustees’ jurisdiction. Nearby, 15 plastic quart containers were filled with chowder, each awaiting a taste test and, for the winners, a prize.
Fred Overton’s famous chowder, a meaty, flavorful Bonac concoction which the town clerk and candidate for town board donates to the event every year, was devoured by the bowlful. Trustees shucked and served oysters and clams to eager visitors, and representatives of the East End Classic Boat Society displayed the Goeller Dinghy they had constructed at the nearby Community Boat Shop.
Inside the Lamb Building, where the trustees hold their biweekly meetings, representatives of the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery manned a table stocked with literature diagramming its clam and oyster seeding projects in Northwest, Three Mile, Accabonac, and Napeague Harbors, as well as Hog Creek and Lake Montauk.
“It was a huge success. Everybody was very happy,” Diane McNally, the trustees’ clerk, said afterward. “I heard the noon whistle and we already had lines for chowder and clams.”
Funds raised by a lobster raffle and the $1 entry fee for the largest clam and chowder competitions, Ms. McNally said, are appropriated to the Captain William T. Rysam Fund, which the trustees oversee. Interest earned on the fund balance is used for a $500 scholarship awarded to a local student each year. “If we can get the principal high enough,” Ms. McNally said hopefully, “we can give out two.”
All eyes were on the clams, and eight lucky winners — an adult and a youth for the largest clam dug from each of four waterways — took home a prize. Urban Reininger, with a 1.91-pound quahog, took top honors for Three Mile Harbor, with Ethan Stillwachs winning the youth category for his 1.84-pound specimen. From Accabonac Harbor, Dennis Curles, a candidate for the board of trustees, came up with the winner at 1.85 pounds, while Elizabeth Branche took the youth award for a 1.23-pounder.
The father-daughter team of Ryan and Laila Persan swept the Lake Montauk competition with .62 and .45-pound clams, respectively. Finally, Ed Hoff Jr. took top honors for both Napeague Harbor and overall, with a 2.45-pound behemoth. His son, Edward Hoff III, won the youth divisions overall with an equally impressive 2.36-pound bivalve, one he had discovered the day before.
All the clams, once the competition had been decided, were returned to the waters they came from to live another day.
The lobster, a six-pound jumbo donated by Gosman’s Dock and delivered on Sunday morning by Joe Bloecker, a trustee, was won by David King.
Absent objective criteria, the chowder competition was both ferocious and delicious, one the judges found nearly impossible to resolve. A runoff was required to determine the winner among the eight New England entries. Next, the red winner and the white had to be judged against each other to select the best of the best.
This judge was torn. Birth in Manhattan and childhood in Montauk had made the tomato-based variety an early favorite. But ancestors born and raised in Massachusetts pulled in another direction. A choice made decades earlier, between Catfish Hunter’s Yankees and Carl Yastrzemski’s Red Sox, was comparatively simple.
Lori Miller-Carr and her co-judge were in agreement, though: Tink Schultz’s “Old Bonac” recipe, handed down by her grandmother and the winner in 2011, edged out the competition. Among the New England entries, Linda Calder, who won last year’s largest clam contest with the biggest monster ever, took top honors.