Although the entire eastern seaboard abounded in clams with thick hard shells and clams with thin “soft” shells, English colonists did not hold them in high repute. The word “clam,” in fact, related to “clamp” and “cramp,” was an Anglo-Saxon generic term for all kinds of bivalves, and bivalves even in neolithic Britain were a main source of food only for “very poor and backward groups of people,” Anne Wilson tells us in
Pilgrims picked up the word “quahog,” which suggests a hoggish-sized clam, from the Narraganset poquauhock. Middle-sized clams eventually were named “cherrystones” after Cherrystone Creek, Virginia. And the smallest-sized clams became “littlenecks” not for their littleness but their location in Littleneck Bay, one in Long Island and another in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Recipes for clams seldom appeared in English cook books because of their low status, but Hannah Glasse did furnish a recipe for Muscle Pie, which became the standard for New England bivalve pies to come. New England favored oysters for its pies and left clams to chowders and broths, pancakes, and fritters. Lydia Child, for example, tells us how to make a clam soup by steaming clams in their own juice. Mrs. A. L. Webster tells us how to roast clams in a skillet over the coals. Indian methods of roasting shells in their campfires or steaming them in earth pits would have seemed to the new settlers a reversion to the barbarisms of their own Celtic tribes. As soon as they could, they substituted pots and pies.
One of the most delectable bivalve pies I’ve come across is an egg and oyster pie in an eighteenth-century manuscript receipt book in Salem, Massachusetts (quoted by
Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line the pie plate and remaining third to make a top crust. Chill for 30 minutes. Steam open the clams in a covered pan with
Add the minced clams to the onion, chopped egg yolks, and seasonings and line the bottom and sides of the pie crust with this forcemeat.
Layer the remaining clams and 6 hard-cooked yolks on top of the forcemeat, then add potato, onion, and seasonings. Mix the broth, vermouth, and butter, beat in the 2 raw yolks, and pour the mixture over the clams and potatoes. Quickly cover with the top pie crust, sealing the edges and cutting a vent in the top. Bake at 325° for about 1 hour.
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.