When my friend Elena found out I was coming to Wellfleet she got very excited and said, "You have to go to Hatch's Seafood and get the smoked Bluefish!" "How will I find it?" I asked. "Oh, everyone knows Hatch's," she replied, waving her hand dismissively.
Just tell anyone you love food and they will help you design your vacation around it.
I let my host know, and on my first day here we bought dinner makings from this well known establishment. Located, easily, off Main Street in the Town Hall parking lot, Hatch's is both fish market and produce stand. An all-in-one for summer eating. A family affair, the fish store is owned by Rob McClellan, and the produce side, Lauren, brother and sister.
Many businesses and residents in Wellfleet, like most of Cape Cod, are seasonal. The idea is that a business owners work seven days a week, morning 'til night, for a few months, and then do whatever they want for the rest of the year. Or go on vacation when the rest of the coast is drudgingly going back to work and school.
It's beautiful here. Lush and moist with breezes from both coasts. Once a peninsula, Cape Cod has a man-made canal on the mainland side, turning it into an island. Although the islands people associate with The Cape are Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Over the weekend we sat on the beach and yesterday we sunned and swam in the bay. People exchange information about tide times and even the children know that when the moon is full the waves are big, making the beach more fun.
And if saltwater swimming is too daunting, Wellfleet hosts a number of hidden and frequented ponds. Long Pond has a little beach and a raft and people tend to swim to the other side for exercise. Like summer camp, summering on The Cape is defined by the weeks. August, at the last month of the season, is the most sought after. When I was a cook in New York City, the entire month of August looked like Christmas day. East coast cities heat up to unbearable temperatures and humidity percentages climb as high as 100% with no rain. Thunderstorms arrive with little warning but the air barely clears, until fall.
Hatch's makes a point, in both the fish and produce businesses, in marking the local and the non-local foodstuffs. Fishing and shellfish boats and traps are a common sight and the famous Wellfleet oyster makes a marked appearance on every menu, high or low end. Bluefish, both buttery and meaty, flaky and satisfying, is a local delicacy and one which brought me right back to my grandfather's table when it arrived in my mouth. The lobster roll is ubiquitous and every local eatery has a slightly different take on its simple preparation. But the locals know better than to trust last year's find, each year they are sampled anew.
For meals at home I have bought flounder, a conspicuously flat fish, and prepared it simply, layered with large slices of red tomatoes, a generous splash of olive oil, salt and pepper and put in a hot over until just cooked. So light, my friend's sister remarked, "I'm still hungry, it was like eating nothing." We have had corn on the cob almost every night, shucked down to almost nothing, and grilled briefly.
Salads are practically meals in and of themselves, prepared late as the sunsets bring cooler ocean breezes and an intense but short lived hunger for clean, seasonal, thirst quenching veggies and cool lettuces. Desserts have been locally made Kayak Cookies, and jaunts to many local popular ice cream shops.
Hatches produce has been an almost daily trip for our meals. Invited to open the shop by her brother in 1983, Lauren McClellan, a handsome woman with an affable smile, acquires the fruit and vegetables through a wholesaler, and by way of a a few avid gardeners who bring her their overstock. "Ernie, who's about 80 hobbles in in with garlic, or whatever he has-- it comes from his garden and I'll take whatever it is."
The stand is mostly set up outside with tarps and umbrellas, baskets and wooden boxes, with constant re-stock from a shaded area in back and a tiny walk-in. A reach-in cooler houses fragile produce such as lettuces, fresh herbs and a small sampling of fresh cheeses. Check-out is a simple affair consisting of a manual cash register, a tall table with two scales and white butcher paper acting as a hand-written long hand calculator.
For them the season starts the Thursday before Memorial Day and closes at the end of September, although they come back for Wellfleet's annual Oyster Festival which takes over the entire Town Hall parking lot and is quite something, as I've been told by many a local. They are open seven days a week, 9 am to 7 p.m. and the rest of the year? "It's basically all the things you can't do when you work all the time."
Hatch's produce is also famous for their fruit popsicles. "My morning meditation was making fruit salad," Lauren said, which after a few days could no longer be sold, and so the salad evolved into "cold fruit soup" which quickly became a sugar free popsicle. Lauren gives the duty over to a new worker every season, and this year she has been very pleased with some surprising combinations and equally as excited by the new Vita-Mix, a blender with incredible power and liquid capacity.
Today, on my last full day here, I plan on sampling the popsicles, getting Bluefish to grill, buying some corn, watercress and Red Leaf, and baking up a rhubarb and wild blueberry cobbler. Eating the land and the sea. Perfect summer eating and relaxing on The Cape, after a day of swimming and reading, and playing catch with the dogs.