Ever since childhood I have had two inspirations that have deeply influenced how I interact with food in my adult life: Little House on the Prairie and Jeremiah Johnson. Does that seem nuts? The first were the books that I read over and over and over again, soaking up all of the daily means of surviving on the prairie during the late 1800s. The second is one of Robert Redford’s best movies about a fur trapper surviving a winter in Montana or Wyoming in the early 1800s.
What the two have in common is survival off the land. It’s always been my fantasy life for me, and yes, I know how difficult it would all be. Two blogs on my blogroll, Fat of the Land and Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, let me live this fantasy vicariously. I envy their knowledge and time to forage and gather food from the land. But finally, I was able to do a little myself when I gathered clams on Block Island last week.
Clam digging is pretty simple; walk along the shore of an inlet, raking or hoeing or using your hands to dig through the top couple of inches of sand to find hidden clams. The excitement of finding a clam is serious fun! Then it becomes addictive, trying to find as many as possible, since not all of the finds can be kept (there are size limits to ensure the babies aren’t harvested too soon.) It was thrilling and exhilarating and I wish we had allotted more time for it as I could have gone on for hours.
I had seen pictures of people flipping them up with their toes, and while I hadn’t quite reached that level of expertise, I was getting there!
Being so fresh from the ocean, there was grit, so be sure if you get fresh ones (not farmed) to follow the instructions for cleaning them. My sister Emily prepared them for us and this was her recipe. Happy clamming!
Emily’s Block Island Steamers
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
2 cups white wine (we used a dry Riesling)
1 small jalapeno, deseeded and minced
fresh clams (we had 4 per diner)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
good bread, sliced, toasted and buttered
If you are lucky enough to forage for your own clams, place them in a large bowl of tap water for 20-60 minutes so they will spit out their sand. Remove one by one (draining into a colander will dump the sand back on top of them) and rinse off the outsides. In large stock pot saute shallots and garlic in butter until soft, 3 minutes. Add jalapeno and cook 1 minute. Add water and wine and clams and cover and bring to boil and steam 7-10 minutes or until all of the clams open up. Discard any that do not. Sprinkle parsley over all and pour into large serving bowl and pass bread to sop up that amazing broth!
Recipes currently inspiring me: