My mother-in-law flew alone across the sea to a grizzly-patrolled beach in Alaska, in search of wild clams, and she shared her prize with us.
For me, even the prospect of such a dangerous undertaking alone is terrifying, but it’s just a lovely afternoon for her, and I am amazed at her bravery. She treasures the wild foods of this land, and she will put forth immense effort to find, catch and grow them.
From her I have learned about mushrooms and flora, how to dig out rows in the earth to plant our staples, and how to care for the soil and the crop so it may better nourish us. She teaches me armed with the hard-earned knowledge passed down to her by her family — people who traveled here on dirt roads with their children to make a life out of the wilderness — and with knowledge she has earned herself through years of persistence, study and trial.
A few summers ago, we flew together across the sea, and my in-laws taught me how to find clams. We knelt in wet sand and dug with our hands in search of sharp shells to grasp, and we filled our buckets with sandy gems. We sat together on a large piece of driftwood and shared a picnic dinner while we watched grizzlies in the distance bouncing after fish in the river.
Someday my children will be old enough to go on such an adventure and, armed with the knowledge passed down to me by my family, I will be able to teach them how to dig clams.
After being chilled by an afternoon out in the Alaskan summer rain, I took the clams she gave us out of the freezer for chowder.
This comforting soup is even better the next day, so make plenty, and have oyster crackers and hot sauce standing by.
Very Special Clam Chowder
4 tablespoons butter
3 russet potatoes
1 whole white onion
4 stalks celery
¼ pound bacon
About 1½ cups clam meat, or 2 cans chopped clams
4 cups fish stock, chicken stock or water
½ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup fresh minced parsley
2 tablespoons dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop your bacon or sausage into small pieces, cook until crispy, and set aside.
Wash and peel your vegetables. Chop your celery, shallot and onion into a small dice. Cut your potatoes into very rough 1-inch cubes, allowing some to be as big as 1.5 inches.
If you are using fresh clams, mince half of them and roughly chop the other half. Reserve as much of the liquid as you can. In a large pot, saute the onion, shallot and celery in butter until soft.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes stirring constantly.
Pour in your stock and cream and stir, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan well.
Add the potatoes and top off with enough water to just cover the vegetables, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked and softened but not completely dissolved.
Add the clams, the bacon or sausage, parsley and thyme, and cook for another 10 minutes before turning off the heat.
Taste and season with extra salt and pepper if needed just before serving.
Garnish with hot sauce, oyster crackers, and extra parsley.
Tressa Dale, a culinary and pastry school graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Nikiski, Alaska.