A rake, a basket, a mud flat, and if you’re so inclined, a license.
Take what you need for dinner, eat them before the next low tide. I put the smallest and the largest back into the flat, tucking them into the mud, keeping a promise made years ago to my niece who loves clams but not killing.
November can be kind, but more often than not, the dying light is unkind to those creatures that depend on the sun.
But the creatures keep moving, and so do I, to the rhythm of the tides and the pull of the rake, one life feeding on another, grace for one, the abyss for the other.
The problem with recipes gets down to the problem with any written language—feigned immortality. If the goal is to get the exact same flavor, then you need the exact same ingredients grown at the exact same time after a season of the exact same weather.
Even then you will fail.
Consistent flavor easy to attain with processed foods. Your industrial producers have mastered consistency, but at a cost. (I am not about to knock processed foods—there is an undeniable comfort in consistency and salt.)
My wheat berries grown on a family farm came with an apology for their small size—it was the driest year in decades and well, plants need water. A tomato grown in my garden may taste slightly different than the one from yours. The clams I raked up yesterday are sweeter than the ones I hope to harvest in March.
Recipes are incredibly useful for proportions, for temperatures, for time in the oven—but not so much for ingredients. This one happened mostly by accident—I liked it so I wrote it down, but who am I fooling?
14 top neck quahogs
1 stick butter
1 celery stick chopped fine
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 tsp rosemary chopped fine
Few sprigs of rosemary to flavor the butter
¾ cup panko, though could use a little more (it’s all I had)
Red pepper flakes
Some chopped garlic, not too much
Some dry basil (my parsley patch seems to be gone)
Gobs of Parmesan cheese, to make up for the missing panko
Tiny splash of rosé wine for when your sauté goes south—it’s what was in the fridge, but it worked.
Cook the clams the usual way—simmer until open, chop the innards, save the broth.
Start the stuffing by melting a stick of butter. I like to add a few sprigs of rosemary while the butter melts. I take out the rosemary once it wilts.
Sauté the onions until they’re where you like them, then cool things down with splash of rosé.
Add the celery and chopped rosemary and let simmer a bit. Normally I would add the garlic here, but I forgot, and I think holding off the garlic until the end worked better.
Add pepper flakes to taste.
Dump and stir the panko, and when you realize that you do not have enough, add enough Parmesan cheese to let the whole thing clump together.
Scoop stuffing into half shells, bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
Serve with some roasted Brussels sprouts and homemade rosemary/garlic bread.
They’re alive, just an hour or two after leaving the bay, and will be until they are cooked an hour or two later.
I am alive when I take this picture, and will be even after these particular clams are eaten.
The air is chilly in the shadows, but the water is still warm enough for sandals.
In a generation or two, different clams will fill the same basket, different hands will hold the same rake.
The shells of the clams above now sit under a maple tree outside, resting among the shards of so many other shells, all raked up alive, all eaten, all dead.
If you’re a high school teacher, here’s a macabre exercise that I think is worth doing once or twice a year. Wander out into the hallways in between the periods, when the kids are being kids, in varied kid positions, using kid slang.–walking/strutting/slouching/skipping/dancing/sliding with in your face vivaciousness .
Now imagine those same bodies a years after they are dead, their skeletal remains as lifeless as the ghostly white clam shells sitting under my maple tree.
And then ask yourself, what are you doing today with these children whose lives are as mortal as the clams.
(Mortality should influence your curriculum at least as much as capitalism does….)