Saturday, June 20, 2009

A New England Tradition

I was beginning to panic as I started to see all those quilt block photos being posted over on Allrecipes.   

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the AR Community is putting together a quilt - anyone who wants to can chip in a quilt block or two, and in the end there will be a drawing to select who gets the finished product.  Might even be a traveling quilt, which I think would be cool!

While I love quilts, have a friend that sews and quilts beautifully, and have even lent her a hand on occasion, my talents involving needle and thread are still in their infancy.  My original plan was to cross-stitch, something I'm MUCH more comfortable with, some pretty lilac (sigh!) pattern, as the subject of my block.  I found a gorgeous pattern on-line, ordered it, skipped into the house from the mailbox...and then realized I would have to come up with something else.  While it's a gorgeous pattern, it will take me about 6 years to complete, it is so intricately detailed.  This I know to be true.

So it was back to the drawing board.  What could I do that represents me or where I'm from?  I've lived in Massachusetts all my life, and I always will.  I started thinking about Massachusetts and my favorite things about where I live...

"Pumpkins, cranberries and fall apple-picking!  
Cape Cod, and clam bakes, and Sox when they're winning!
Soft serve with jimmies (you call them sprinkles).
These are a few of my favorite things!

Homemade clam chowdah, and pahking my caaaahhhh..."

I hate when I lose my R's....

Anyway, it's not really just Massachusetts I love.   We have pure maple syrup....mine usually comes from Vermont.  And blueberries grow wild everywhere here....but I drive four hours into Maine to get wild Maine blueberries in season.  From where I live in central Massachusetts, the other New England states are between a 20 minute to two hour drive away, and while they all have their own specialties and their own claims to fame, they all feel like home to me.  Kind of like in your house you have a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, a bedroom or two, a porch...well, I've got six states.

So that's my plan for my quilt block - New England.  If all goes well (or not, because you know how I love to laugh at myself!) I'll post a pic soon.  Meanwhile, my excitement over my New England theme got me reminiscing about my childhood, family gatherings, summer vacations at the beach...and since my husband was working tonight, and tomorrow is Father's Day, my gift to him was for me to make this for dinner...

I'll give you a hint:  It's something he would never, ever, EVER eat.

And here is the most important ingredient:

Johhnycakes, you say?  Nope. But that is a Rhode Island thing, like celery salt on your hot dogs.

Here's a couple more clues:

Buttah.  Gahlic.  Cheap Beer. (The "r" is silent in beer, by the way.)
(Tomatoes are just for show.  And Cabot butter and cheese from Vermont is one other reason to love New England.)

Give up?  
OK, this is the final clue.

They're called clams!  Although, when I went to the fish market today I didn't buy "clams", I bought steamers.  (Again, the "r" is silent).  Growing up, THIS is the only kind of clam I knew.  I suppose you'd call them soft-shell clams, although they're not soft and may cut you if you step in a broken one barefoot.  

Now, I know some folks won't be into this.  I've grossed out a few visitors or dining companions before, so I'll tell you when to close your eyes.  Don't worry, I have yet to gather the courage to try sushi or cow tongue yet, so I feel your pain.

First things first, when you buy your clams you want to rush them home, place them in a big pan or baking dish and cover with water - ocean water, if you're near the beach, but I use fresh water.  Sprinkle a fair amount of corn meal over them.  Trust me.  Gritty clams are like nails on a chalkboard to me.  They are alive and will ingest the cornmeal which will"clean them out".  (I told you it was important!)

Are you grossed out yet?  Oh, it gets better, my darlings!

Stick the pan in the refrigerator for at least two hours...we've done it as long as 24 hours, and I think I heard if you use ocean water you can keep them there up to 48 hours, but you might want to Google that to I said, I use fresh water.

First things first, clams take like five minutes to cook, so start melting your Cabot butter. 
Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, pour in enough water to cover the clams by about an inch, then add your beer...
Then the rinsed clams...
And a somewhat smashed clove of big one or two normal sized ones.
Now, there may be some dispute here...some people bring the water to a boil, then dump the clams in.  My Uncle Jim always started them in cool water, poured in the beer, let the clams mellow out a bit, then gradually turn up the heat.  So that's what I do.  And don't waste your Guinness on this, folks.  Traditionally, we used Schaefer or Schlitz.  The water:beer ratio is probably going to be 4:1 anyway, so pick a beer that Canadiens laugh at.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Boil for about 4 or 5 minutes.  

WARNING!!! WARNING!!!  Scroll down slowly in case you're not ready for this....

This is them done - you can tell, because the shells are open.  If you have any that are still closed up, toss 'em.  They're no good.  

Remove from heat, BUT DO NOT STRAIN THEM! Transfer the clams to a large serving dish with a slotted spoon.  Then, through a coffee filter (or for larger batches, paper towel lined) strainer, strain the broth.
(Or not.  Uncle Jim didn't)
I'm flying solo tonight, so I just used about a cup and a half or so.

Pour your melted butter into small dipping bowls - everyone usually has their own bowl of broth and their own bowl of butter. 

To eat a steamer, first you remove them from the shell.

If only I knew Photoshop well, I could have applied a nice French manicure action.   But of course, if you're "ew"-ing right now, it's probably not due to my lack of manicure!


Next step, you'll want to peel off the membrane  (yes, I said membrane).  You'll know it when you see it.

Then, dip the clam into the broth, then into the butter, and enjoy!

 If you dare....

And if it makes you feel any better, I was kind of grossed out tonight too.    While my husband couldn't stand to be in the same room as someone eating steamers, I did make his favorite cake for him for Father's Day....

How I married a man who doesn't like homemade cake is beyond me.  :)

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there! 


thamesarino said...

mmm I LOVE steamers!! I'm from everywhere being an army brat and lived out west for a lot of my youth.. but all of my people are from New Hampsha. Ayuh!
and although I only lived there a year or so as a little kid.. I still feel really connected to New England because of all the relatives I have wandering around up there!! : )

thamesarino said...

oops I pushed go too soon.. thanks for the memories! : )
great post and thanks a bunch because now I really want a bucket of steamers!!

5thsister said...

LOL! I'd mellow out too if you covered me in beer! These look really good. I've never tried to do fresh clams on my own because they scare me, but I do love them. Thank you for the education and I can't wait to see your quilt block!

Lissaloo said...

What a great post! I felt like I was in your kitchen hanging out :) I have never been brave enough to try any shellfish, other than crab. I might have to give them a try now that I have such great instructions :)

ChristineM said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Yeah, 5th, a "beer hot tub" might mellow me out too! ;) Thames, it's funny, I think steamers, of all things, remind me of New England. I even remember the clam bakes at the beach - my uncles digging the hole in the sand, the seaweed, heating rocks, cooking clams, lobster, corn, sausage all together...THAT's a bit beyond my capabilities, although I'd like to try it some day. And Lissaloo, my shellfish phobia is crab!

Mama Goose said...

Ay-Uh. Gotta go get me some steamahs pronto! Nevah tried the cahn meal trick tho, we Mainahs like em gritty. ; )

ChristineM said...

Mama Goose, I - literally! - laughed out loud at your post! I think my late Aunt Beulah (from Maine, of course) once spoke those exact same words, exact same accent! Thanks for posting! :)

Willoughby said...

I loved this post! Your warnings were cracking me up!

I can't wait to see your quilt block. I haven't been to the exchange in months so I hadn't heard about it. Sounds like a cool idea!