Ye Clams from Le Cirque
Ye Clams from Le Cirque
In a Thanksgiving proclamation (the authenticity of which is questioned by some) by Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony in 1623, he wrote: In as much as the great Father has given us this year abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetable, and has made the forest abound with game and the sea with fish and clams...
I have used at every opportunity this reference to quahogs as my excuse to re-introduce to the family and others an original menu item for the Thanksgiving Day feast: clams. Not just any clams, clams with Columbus' signature, by way of the Italian chef at Le Cirque on 58th Street in Manhattan, baked stuffed clams Italian style.
I just finished preparing this year's portion for Thursday.
I dug up two and half dozen cherrystones in the far reaches of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Scrubbed of their sand I put them to bed in the downstairs refrigerator. Tuesday afternoon I woke them from their slumbers; mixed them with bread crumbs, onions and Parmesan cheese; garnished them with basil and hot pepper; added a few jiggers of white wine; crowned them with olive oil and plenty more of Parmesan cheese; and baked them in the oven. Ah, what an aroma... not quite roast turkey, but maybe even better.
Back in the days, some thirty years ago, when I sought to ameliorate my guilt about household chores, seeing that my spouse was also working fulltime, I decided I should learn to cook. Now I count among my culinary skills one capability, if not rare, certainly unusual for anyone not working in a fish market. I mean opening clams, hard shell, known to those in the trade as quahogs, the kind we would in our youth along the shores of Southern Connecticut hunt with bare feet in the muck with water up to our shoulders. In those days it was the bigger the better. Chowder clams pleased us more than the cherrystones which you see in the photos in this posting.
Our niece Beth, deprived of her share of stuffed clams for the past three years and missing them, wondered if the recipe was an easy one. It took me no longer than a remembrance of cut fingers to answer, "No, getting the clams open is the hard part." For her benefit and maybe yours I offer you a graphic explanation of my technique.
All that remains is their consumption, but I am posting this Thanksgiving salute a day and a half before the feast. Maybe, if I can think of it, I'll add another photo later of niece Beth making up for lost time.
Quahogs aren't everyone's fancy. But some of my favorite people would say a loud "Amen" to Governor Bradford's singling out the shoreline delicacies. I think of Barbara's father, "Dub" Davis, clamdigger from Amityville LI, who like Eric Bjorneby with ice cream parlors, could not pass a seafood restaurant without sampling the chowder. Or Ned Mahoney, the Michigan "Soo's" gift to Long Island who favored stuffed clams almost as much as ice cream cones.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins memorably sang "Praise be to God for dappled things." There are some of us who would happily write another verse: "Praise be to God for clammy things."
Got to leave you now. Time to bake a sweet German chocolate pie and, though not in the pie, buttered parsnips.