The Mast-Head: Chowder Time

There was a morning low tide on the last day of 2011. After tending to my household chores, feeding the dogs and chickens, and before the rest of the family was awake, I slipped out in the truck to go clamming. With little traffic on the roads before 8 a.m., I rolled easily up to East Hampton Village to buy $40 worth of gasoline and grab a clam rake from the barn.
    Saturday’s balmy 50-degree air seems an impossible memory as I write this a few days later with the night’s forecast for the teens. And the water temperature seemed about the same as the air. I clammed barehanded. There was little or no wind.
    I scratched lazily, wandering off the edge of my accustomed sand flat, surprising myself by stumbling onto a productive group of clams. There were a few gulls and ducks to keep me company. After a while, Paul Lester, accompanied by a dog, launched a boat and headed out to go scalloping. When I was done, my heavy and half-filled mesh bag dragged along the path back to the truck.
    Ellis, our 2-year-old, helped me wash the clams in the sink and put them into bags. I explained to him that there were “fish” inside and opened one so he could see. For the next few days, he would open the refrigerator, take out a clam, and declare, “Fis!” demanding that I open another for him to examine.
    Monday was chowder night in our house. Evvy, our middle child, helped with the potatoes, leaving peels all over the kitchen floor. Ellis happily cleaned them up.
    There was no recipe to follow. I sautéed onion and shallots in good olive oil, then threw in a handful of chopped-up smoked bluefish instead of the traditional salt pork. Next went in some white, then broth and water in approximately equal proportions, then a bay leaf and some thyme and diced potatoes.When the potatoes were soft, in went the now-chopped clams.
    Each family member (other than Ellis) added something to cream up their bowls according to their taste. Ellis didn’t care much for it anyway. Adelia had two servings. Evvy had a serving then asked for a second of just the broth. There were no leftovers.