In the great tradition of barn-raising, volunteers in Lanesville have been assembling every Saturday morning since last spring in Lanes Cove to renovate the Fish Shack, one of the many fish houses that once lined the edges of the cove. And, in the great tradition of community barn-raising, they needed lunch.
As to shacks vs. houses, “they’re called fish houses!” journalist Barbara Erkkila insists. The artists who arrived in Gloucester to paint the quaint harbor settings began calling them “shacks.”
According to Nancy Gaines of the Gloucester Daily Times, some of the Cape Ann fish houses date back 200 years. Some were constructed with materials from old shipwrecks. The Lanes Cove Fish Shack is thought to be approximately 125 years old. That was almost a finality when the City of Gloucester condemned the building, for years unloved, in June 2011. Still, when a December 2010 storm lashed a great chunk out of the Lanes Cove seawall, toppling many tons of granite block, the Fish Shack stood, probably because the building was so riddled with holes that wind and seawater ran through it like a strainer.
In 2011 some Lanesville residents rallied together, and petitioned the city to preserve this totem to bountiful fishing years, this nod to the grace of simple New England architecture, this Lanesville motif.
For a sum of $80,000, the group secured $20,000 in Community Preservation funds, $3,000 from the Waterways Board, and $26,000 in private donations. The difference has been finished in donated labor and materials, such as the rough-hewn Lanesville forest lumber from Peter Natti’s sawmill.
Since last spring — or since Kyle Conant saw the crew working really hard and decided to order them pizzas — generous lunch providers have come through.
Barbara Jobs, one of the instrumental figures in the “Save Our Shack” team, is loosely in charge of scheduling the Fish Shack lunches. There has been three-bean chili with chicken, lentil soup with chicken, gazpacho on a hot summer day, pots of chowder, Smokin’ Jim’s pulled chicken, Plum Cove Grind sandwiches, banana bread, brownies, carrot cake cupcakes, and something called “Milk Bread,” about which I’m dying to know more.
Some people order pizzas; some order sandwiches; everyone gets the community spirit of the whole thing, wants to do whatever they can to help.
The Lanesville Bluefish Tournament even pitched together and gave $300 to the Fish Shack volunteers, money which has been escrowed into the official morning coffee fund.
I understand that Brian Church made the crew the best Fish Shack Chowder Ever, a thick creamy stew mounded with scallops, clams, shrimp, and great hunks of lobster.
My Saturday morning effort was a humbler chowder, served with pumpkin biscuits and the New England-branded Joe Frogger cookies. Since Brian Church is keeping his recipe secret, I’m offering you mine, which doesn’t have lobster and scallops but is easy to throw together for a crowd on a hectic Saturday morning and, with the addition of clove, dill, and vermouth, makes a Yankee staple just a little bit sophisticated, just like Lanesville.
Joe Frogger blog and recipe coming soon.
Fish Shack Chowder
2 pounds haddock or cod fillets
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons parsley chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 whole cloves
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
3 medium Bermuda onions, sliced
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 cups boiling water
2 cups light cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put all ingredients, except cream, into a 6-quart casserole. Cover and bake for one hour. Heat cream to scalding and add to chowder. Stir to break up fish.
Gloucester resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.