I believe in clams. Though I now live on the shores of Puget Sound where clams are poor cousins to salmon, oysters and crab, I am a New Englander. Oh, am I a New Englander, both by birth and heritage. My ancestors, William and Susanna White came ashore at a place they would call the Plymouth Plantation in 1620. I’m sure that not long after stepping off onto Plymouth Rock they were digging and eating clams and thanking their god for them.
One of the famous popular bits of colonial lore tells us that indentured servants in Massachusetts made sure that their indentures included a prohibition on being served lobster at more than three meals a week. I think it’s significant that clams never got a similar mention. No one ever disparaged clams as “poverty food” the way they did lobster.
I am not religious. I don’t believe in any god. Yet clams undermine that position better than any sermonizing ever could. I find it hard to argue with the idea that clams are exactly the kind of food that a good and benevolent god would provide to the creatures he or she loved most. I’m not bothered in the least that those especially loved creatures include otters and seagulls as well as man. In fact it’s oddly consistent if you’ve ever been in an office break room when there’s free food on offer.
One can eat clams in a plethora of ways: raw, steamed, baked, over pasta in white or red sauces, in risottos, stews and chowders and, of course fried. Sitting at a picnic table in the open air on a summer’s evening over a heaping plate of whole fried clams is certainly enough to inspire a connection to the eternal and sublime in almost anyone. Clams are sweet, luscious and satisfying in all their manifestations, though I must say that what we refer to as Manhattan clam chowder is neither a chowder not a decent cioppino and just a horrible thing to do to the noble clam. The only worse thing that one can do to a clam is turn it into “clam strips”, the pasteurized, processed clam-food of the shellfish industry. But overall, clams are a reasonably high standard in which to put one’s faith.
I write this on a summer’s day which has put me in mind of another 8 years ago, a July 4th shared with 3 of my oldest, dearest friends in all the world. We ate clams at Farnham’s in Essex, Massachusetts in the evening as the sun was setting and then watched distant fireworks over the darkened Ipswich River marsh. It was a moment when life and food were good, the night and company warm and the fireworks an serendipitous punctuation to a beautiful day. And all of that came together over clams giving me another reason why I believe in them-mmmm.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.