Curiosity killed the cat; mail-order coffee syrup brought her back.

One consequence of having a website like this is that people think we know everything there is to know about Rhode Island. We do our best not to let them down. Interestingly, something like eighty percent of the questions we receive seem to have to do with Rhode Island food; where to get it or how to make it. Here are some of the answers we commonly give.

Dear Stuffie,

I live far from the sea where there is nary a quahog to be found, but I'd like to try my hand at making stuffies. Where, oh where can I get quahog shells?

Landlocked Landlubber

Hi Landlocked,

One place we know of for sure is Gardner's Wharf Seafood in Wickford, North Kingstown. They boast they'll ship any item in their store, and that includes quahog shells. Allow your eyes to roam over their extensive list of local, fresh seafood and you may feel yourself inclined to expand your order.


Dear Stuffie,

I consider myself a knowledgeable Rhode Islander, but a question from my mom (from Massachusetts) got me thinking. She asked me what road traffic folks are talking about when they mention the "airport connector." I always thought that the airport connector was Route 37 because it connects 295 to the airport, but some casual googling has led me to doubt my conviction about this because it seems as though Exit 13 off 95 is the true airport connector. Which is it? And if the answer is Exit 13's long off-ramp, why don't we simply call it Exit 13? Please solve this mystery!

Thank you,

Jessica from Warwick

P.S. Keep up the great work on the website. I laugh every time I check in to see what's new and updated!

Hi Jessica,

We thought you were correct about Exit 13 but we wanted to be sure, so we contacted Rhode Island's guru of the highways, Mike Sheridan, and he confirmed that Exit 13 is, in fact, the airport connector. As to why they don't just say Exit 13 instead, we assume it's because "airport connector" is more evocative than a mere exit number.


A friend of mine left a bag of clam cakes in my car a few weeks ago. Now it smells horrible. How can I get rid of the stench of old, stale clam cakes?

Leave some hot weiners in your car for a few weeks.


I'm stuck in Providence on a rainy day. Do you have any suggestions for indoor activities?

There's also the Providence Place Mall, but unless you're looking for the comforting sameness that can be found in any mall coast to coast, we don't encourage you to go there. If that's what you're looking for, though, hey, knock yourself out.


How can I make my own coffee syrup?

You can find a recipe for coffee syrup here, as well as at the end of our article on Coffee Milk


Who are the "Five Families" of Rhode Island?

We were unfamiliar with this phrase, as well, so we went to Ian Donnis, News Editor of the Providence Phoenix, who used it in an article on a possible challenge to Lincoln Chafee's Senate seat in the 2006 election. In it he described Chafee as "The scion of one of the state's "Five Families."

Donnis told us that the five families are the Chafees, the Lippitts, the Metcalfes, the Goddards, and the Browns. These families of Yankee stock, which are still around today, basically ran the state up until the 1930s, when they began to have to share political power with Italian and Irish immigrants.


What's up with pearls in Quahogs?

Yes, quahogs can make pearls. So can any other kind of bivalve mollusk. They're rare, but they do occur, and when they occur, they're usually purple.

In April 2000 a Newport antiques dealer named Alan Golash purchased a brooch for fourteen dollars. He was interested in the 18k gold setting, but when he cleaned the piece he discovered it included two large purple pearls in addition to three small rose-cut diamonds. The bigger pearl, of excellent quality and measuring fourteen milemeters in diameter, may be the largest quahog pearl in the world. And what's more, it's natural, not man-made.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, when oil production began polluting the world's oceans, natural pearls have become rarer and rarer. Pearls these days are almost all cultured. A small bead placed into a live oyster acts as an irritant, causing the oyster to coat the bead with a substance (composed of calcium carbonate and conchiolin, an organic bonding agent), called nacre. The style of the setting in which Golash's pearl was found indicates it was mounted between 1850 and 1875. At the time it was harvested, the pearl had probably been growing for twenty-four years.

Golash plans to sell the pearl, which he calls the Pearl of Venus, at an auction in Hong Kong in 2007, where some experts expect it to fetch as much as one million dollars.

In spite of the pollution factor, pearls are still found in quahogs occasionally. It's estimated that as many as 1 in 100,000 quahogs may contain a pearl, with maybe one in twenty of those being of gem quality. We've received more than one email from readers who claimed to have found pearls in their chowder. The Block Island Times reported in September 2005 that a two- or three-millimeter off-white pearl with a violet band was found in a quahog harvested from Cormorant Cove, and the Providence Journal reported that another pea-sized purple pearl was found by a Portsmouth couple in early December 2005.


I'm an ex-Rhode Islander who's been living in North Dakota for the last thirty years and I'd sell my first born for one bite of a hot weiner. Can I get weiners by mail order?

Most mass-produced hot dogs won't cut it if you want authentic weiners. All authentic weiners are produced by one company: Little Rhody Brand Frankfurts of Johnston, Rhode Island. They supply weiners to every New York System-style restaurant in the region. The real deal is narrower than most dogs and is cut rather than pinched on the ends. (The pinched variety are also produced by Little Rhody but they are referred to as "hot dogs" to distinguish them from their circumcised brethren). Many hot weenie joints buy their weiners in bulk in uncut thirty-foot lengths, but there are a number of places around the state where this kind of weenie is publicly available (albeit in more manageable lengths). One example we know of is Brigido's IGA in Scituate.

Little Rhody Brand Frankfurts doesn't currently (as of June 2015) offer the ability to enter mail order requests through their website, although they say they'd like to add that functionality in the future. They do take phone orders, but with one caveat: arranging shipping is the responsibility of the customer. Here is their contact information:

Little Rhody Brand Frankfurts
5 Day Street
Johnston, RI 02919
(401) 831-0815
sales@littlerhodyhotdogs.com
littlerhodyhotdogs.com

And if you're in the area, drop by the Little Rhody Store at the same address. There you can get Little Rhody Skinless Hot Dogs, Jumbo Skinless, Snappers, and Mile Long Hot Dogs, as well as Kielbasa, Sweet or Hot Italian Sausage, Knockwurst, and Bratwurst. They also sell their own blend of weiner sauce spices alongside Olneyville New York System's famous spice blend. And of course, you can also get the same New York System-style weiners you remember, either pre-cut in bun-sized lengths, or in thirty-foot uncut ropes.


Hi Stuffie,

Love the Web site. As a Masshole who regularly visits Rhode Island (to work) I've learned a lot.

One question continues to stump me: What is the deal with Rhode Islanders and celery salt? Any place I've lived, celery salt is one of those seasonings that our mothers bought once in the '60s and used the same tin for the next generation—maybe a quarter teaspoon in the Thanksgiving stuffing, but that's it.

Rhode Islanders revere this seasoning. An informal poll of my Rhode Island co-workers reveal that they all give celery salt a place of honor at the front of the spice cupboard so that it's always within easy reach. Potato salad, hamburgers, and of course hot dogs—they wouldn't dream of it without celery salt. Here at CCRI, the cafeteria keeps a large container of celery salt alongside the salt, pepper, and cheese.

Please, you are the go-to guys for all things Rhode Island. Can you explain the origins of this love affair?

Marla
Worcester, Massachusetts

Marla,

I asked around a little, and while I don't have a satisfying answer to your question, I did get back some interesting reminiscences.

But first, the closest I have to a real answer comes from Barbara Sherman Stetson, the author of It's Rhode Island: A Cook Book. She doesn't know much more than the rest of us when it comes to celery salt, but she seems to think it has a connection with German immigrants, white sauces, and Fanny Farmer (author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), which apparently includes many recipes calling for celery salt); and that it's a regional New England thing, not just a Rhode Island thing.

I also posed your question to the denizens of the Usenet newsgroup alt.rhode_island, an online discussion forum. Here are some of their responses:

Anne: Interesting. I was never a big celery-salt fan, but my mom (born and raised in southeastern Massachusetts, and the person who first got me hooked on coffee ice cream) used it regularly on just about everything. I remember, too, the wonderful original Joe's sandwich shop on Benefit Street going back to the early 1970s [now Geoff's] where the RISD students making your roast beef/melted swiss on rye would always ask "Salt-pepper-celery salt?" as if invoking the holy trinity of seasonings.

Laury: My grandmother came from Olneyville just before World War II and used celery salt on everything, but especially Saugys. Saugys were served on Nissen buns with mustard, sweet pepper relish, and celery salt. My other grandmother came from Woonsocket, French-Canadian (actually born in Quebec), and did not use celery salt, but her husband, from Olneyville, did. I always had the vague impression it was an Olneyville thing, but it would seem from other's recollections that it was more broad than that.

Patsina55: As kids, we thought celery salt was an exotic but safe way to spice up our food. (And yes—my mother was Irish.) Celery salt wasn't potentially life-threatening in large quantities like Frank's Hot Sauce and didn't have a yucky aftertaste like Accent. Any spices with actual flavors, such as curry powder, were way too scary for us and would have sat on my mother's counter alongside the mysterious "cream of tartar" till they petrified. What is cream of tartar, anyway? It's not creamy and it doesn't contain raw beef.

Bob: I can't give you the origin of Rhode Island's fascination with celery salt... but I can affirm that when growing up in Rhode Island, celery salt seemed to be married to certain foods we ate: Saugys of course; potato salad; lobster salad; soup stock; et al. While it's true that where we now live (Philadelphia area) celery salt does not seem to have the same popularity, it is available, and we have a reputation for serving the best damned hot dogs in town (actually we serve knockwurst because it's almost impossible to get hot dogs which are not skinless here). Also, I've become fond of using "celery seed" rather than "celery salt" for our potato salad and lobster salad.

Thomas: All this talk about celery salt/seeds led me to buy some of our locally manufactured (McCormick spices) celery seeds. I put it (plus mustard and relish) on two Nathan's dogs tonight. Yup, Rhode Island has a good idea there.

So there you have it. Now you know everything that I, Barbara Sherman Stetson, and the folks in alt.rhode_island know about Rhode Islanders and celery salt—that is, not much!


Your site is da bomb! Can I have a job?

Sorry, folks. We're flattered by your interest, but Quahog is not hiring. We are an all-volunteer organization, we don't accept advertising, and we have no money to pay you. If, however, you're interested in contributing research, writing, photographs, reminiscences, materials for our collection, or whatever, please drop us a line at stuffie@quahog.org.

This article last edited June 4, 2015

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