Growing up on Long Island you are never more than a short car ride from some type of water. From the local beaches that can be found in almost every town along the Long Island coast, or state parks like Jones Beach, and Fire Island to the white sand beaches of the world famous Hamptons, summers on Long Island are often spent at the beach. My family took this to the extreme every year. As soon as the weather turned warm enough my mother would load us up into the family station wagon and head to Fleets Cove, a small town beach in our home town of Huntington. Fleets, as we would some times call it, was a small strip of sand that had everything we needed: sun, sand, and water. That is where my sister and I learned to swim, and we were signed up for swimming lessons every summer. Over multiple three week sessions that we would take all summer, we would arrive in the early morning hours, attend our lessons, and then stay until late afternoon. My mother loved our time at the beach. By early June she already sported a dark brown tan. Over the years she became a fixture at Fleets cove. We sat in the same area: close, but not too close to the water, with the same friends every year. When the tides cooperated, and low tide coincided with our time at the beach we spent our non-swim lesson hours clamming. We didn’t clam with any types of shovels or rakes. Instead we used our toes, which would leave them ravaged by the end of the summer. We would walk out until we were a little more than waste deep, and start digging. By scraping the top inch or two of sand, shells, and rocks off the surface of the bay bottom, we would search for a motherload of clams in every size. Over the years my mother taught anyone the art of clamming who asked what we were doing. Most of the time it was a kid who would ask, but there were more than a few moms who joined in as well. On a good day, and most of them were good days, we would take three to four dozen clams home with us. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have so many clams at the end of the day that we would either sell, or more often give away some of our daily catch. My mother would turn the clams we brought home into some of my favorite summer time meals. Treats like baked stuffed clams (without clams for my cousin, who didn’t like them), spaghetti with clam sauce, and clam chowder graced our summer dinner table, and were our family’s contribution to many barbecues. As we got older and had kids of our own, my mother taught her grand children how to clam, and introduced them all to her specialties. My sister’s children were the ones who named her Grandma Beach. Some of the happiest, and proudest times in my mom’s life were spent sitting in her beach chair watching her grandchildren enjoy her happy place.
I grew up on my mom’s Manhattan clam chowder (the red one), a delicious blend of clams, vegetables, and crushed tomatoes that created a broth that I would drink by the glass if she would have let me. Now my boys are fans of New England clam chowder (the white one), a creamy blend of clams, potatoes, and, if done right, bacon. During our vacations to Maine and Massachusetts they look for it on every menu. My youngest son recently requested that I make a batch of chowder for dinner. I have made chowder a number of times before while working in restaurants on Long Island, but it has been over 25 years, and back then I was making huge batches to feed a restaurant full of customers on a busy weekend. I was definitely going to have to scale down my efforts. The recipe I put together is below, please let me know what you think.
- 4 bacon strips
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) chopped clams, undrained
- In a large pot cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Once crisp take out of pot, and put on paper towel. Leave bacon grease in pot.
- Saute celery and onion in the drippings until onions are soft.
- Add garlic and cook until lightly brown.
- Stir in the potatoes, water, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender.
- Add cooked bacon back to pot.
- Gradually stir 1 cup of the half and half into the soup. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in clams and remaining half-and-half; heat through (do not boil).
- Serve with oyster crackers