My son is passionate about fishing, and lately his enthusiasm for all creatures of the salt water zone has spilled over into the bivalvia. He and his fishing friends found the perfect beach for both steamers and quahogs, one that isn’t too far from our home. So after a few baskets brimming with steamers and quahogs were transformed into the world’s most delectable clam chowder, we began our latest culinary quest: Achieving the perfect clam pizza.
You can’t even begin to imagine how good this can be. It requires the freshest clams, a deft hand at cooking them just the right amount, and the steady patience to know how to produce a reduction-based, bacon and garlic-laced white sauce that brings the sea to your lips and will send you right out of your earthbound body. Layered with the perfect combination of cheeses (they must sing in background, this is essential), fresh oregano and parsley, with a final spritz of lemon juice, and you are in gastronomic pleasure heaven.
After such culinary ecstasies, who wouldn’t want to move farther down the clam procurement supply chain? So this week I convinced Bryce to take me with him.
I remember clamming in the San Francisco Bay when I was three years old. The clams are long gone from the Bay Area, but that muddy childhood memory has lingered in me for a long time. The steamer season in Massachusetts is over at the end of October, and you can only dig for them on Wednesdays and Saturdays. So even though Wednesday was rainy, windy and cold, it was my only opportunity for an East Coast clamming initiation this season.
When we arrived at the beach, the long grass whipped wildly in every direction and the low tide was higher than usual. Undaunted, Bryce took me to a likely patch of beach and gave me the simple instructions: Look for the dimple in the sand, then dig down.
As he demonstrated, I had the feeling I was witnessing childbirth, clam style. He showed me how carefully the process must be undertaken, how the sand needs to be softly removed from around the belly of the shell before the whole being is gently lifted out of its deep, sandy womb.
Everything about clamming feels sensual and sexual. Digging in wet sand has its own kind of physicality, and reaching down deep to find a tight, hard artifact is intoxicating. It fits in a human hand perfectly, locked in its fierce defense. But when that shell springs open with persistent heat or the quick penetration of a well placed blade, the inside is its own self-contained universe of soft, silky flesh. Even the dimple on the sand, a reversed nipple, speaks of seduction and arousal. Not to mention that the classification name bivalvia sounds so similar to vulva.
Bryce once rhapsodized about the strange and glorious circumstances of a clam’s life. They live in sand that is made from the ancient bodies of their ancestors, infaunal creatures who find enough nutrients from a tethered beach berth to grow to maturity. Very few survive past the larval stage, but those that do build their shells from ancestral remnants. They are a recycling and sustainability paragon.
Clamophilia? Sounds like a social disease. Clammism? Suggests an extreme political movement. Bivalvism? Could be a continental literary theory.
I need a simple word that captures my rhapsody and passion. Clam lover will have to do.
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