Consider the clam bake

July 4, 2012

Why is a clam bake called a "clam" bake? Traditionalists expect a classic New England beach-baked feast with said clams as well as lobsters, mussels, shrimp, corn, potatoes and sausage — so I gather from the many historic festival menus along the coast.

Legend has it that Native Americans taught Pilgrims how to bake clams and other sea and seasonal foods — which, yes, sounds just like the Thanksgiving dinner origin story. So perhaps as the turkey dinner has evolved to include the requisite stuffing and regional sides, the clam bake has too.

The New England summer clam bake is best known, but there's also the lesser known Cleveland clam bake in fall. And then there's the so-called clam bake of the Midwest: the milk can dinner, typically with sausage, corn, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, cooked in milk cans over an open fire — but no clams.

Clams and open fires were both found at the recent summer "clam" bake hosted by my friend, pitmaster Gary Wiviott. Gary invited me to this latest edition of his Pitmaster Dinner Series at Barn & Company.

Have you ever tasted smoked or grilled clams? Or mussels or oysters? Delicate flesh clings lightly inside shells, basted in briny liquor, with a flavor intensely of the sea. If you cook them yourself there's no need for shucking; the heat pops them open when done.

With the Fourth of July falling midweek this year, please enjoy this little momentary feast: