Friday, April 6, 2012

Official State Whatever

When I lived in New Mexico, I thought it was humorous that New Mexico had "official state neckwear"--the bolo tie.  (Read my 2007 blog post on this subject here.)

But in today's Providence Journal I read that Rhode Island also has a number of unusual official state items including the official state shell (quahaug) and the official state drink (coffee milk).

quahaug shell
The quahaug (which comes from the Narragansett Indian word "poquauhock") is a large Atlantic hard-shell clam; smaller cousins are known as cherrystones, even smaller ones as littlenecks. The Narragansetts made beads from quahaug shells that were used as money, leading the Anglos to give the Latin name Mercenaria mercenaria (derived from the Latin word for wages) to the clam.

Rhode Island supplies a large percentage of the US commercial quahaug catch--about 3.5 million pounds per year. So it's not surprising that the RI Legislature named the quahaug the official state shell in 1987.

stuffie, or stuffed clam
 If you've eaten clams in Rhode Island, you probably know that the local name for stuffed quahaugs is "stuffies", and like meatloaf or turkey stuffing, everyone has their own recipe. You can find one on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary blog referenced at the end of this post.

Eclipse Syrup
The coffee milk story is a bit more complicated. Coffee milk has been a popular beverage in southern New England since the early 20th century--possibly derived from Italian immigrants' recipes, and translated to a drugstore and diner blend in the 1920s and 1930s.  Eclipse introduced a retail package of the syrup in 1938 ("You smack your lips if it's Eclipse") and its competitor Autocrat came out with their own product in the early 1940s.  The two companies competed head to head until Eclipse's parent company was bought by a British conglomerate that wanted out of the coffee syrup business--and Autocrat took the opportunity to buy up the Eclipse brand name and secret recipe in 1991. Both Eclipse and Autocrat syrups are still available today and have their own loyal followings. Caffeine and sugar--what's not to like?

Coffee milk (made with milk and coffee syrup) seems to be a product that's virtually unknown outside of southern New England (and maybe a little of New Hampshire). And Rhode Islanders drink more of the concoction than anyone else. (Rhode Islanders also eat more coffee ice cream--it's second only to vanilla in  popularity.)

Coffee milk was named the official state drink in 1993, shortly after Autocrat acquired Eclipse, although the proposal in the Legislature did get some spirited opposition from the Representative from Middletown, who also happened to own a Del's Lemonade franchise (another popular Rhode Island beverage!).

And if you combine coffee milk and ice cream, you get a coffee cabinet--another term used exclusively in Rhode Island.

Illustrations and References

The photos of the coffee milk in a glass and the Eclipse syrup bottle were found on the What's Cooking in America website.

The quahaug photo comes from the Proper Course blog; the post is entitled "Quahaug".

The photo of the stuffed clams (or "stuffies") appeared in the Cutting Edge of Ordinary blog, in a post entitled "Stuffies".

Factual information for this post comes from a post entitled "Coffee Milk" on the website, and from the Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet on the quahaug.


  1. I had fun discovering Rhode Island's little oddities, too. Loving your blog!

  2. Thanks for the positive feedback! I will definitely check out your blog as well...