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Consider the clam bake

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Grilled Maine lobster and Old Bay BBQ shrimp; smoked mussels, clams, buttermilk-brined chicken, Mikeska sausage and summer salt new potatoes. (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

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:

Johnnycake with pulled pork and pickled red onion (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Insalata caprese skewer with mozzarella, smoked grape tomato and farmers market basil (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Watermelon and feta skewer with mint, charred jalapeño and drizzle of Chicago Co-op honey (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Widow's Peak punch with Southern Comfort, rum, orange, pineapple and cranberry juices (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Shaved fennel, mushroom and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad with lemon vinaigrette (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Grilled corn with Old Bay butter (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
The Christopher cocktail with gin, bitters, simple syrup, cucumber and lemon (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Kentucky Beach cocktail with gin, Cedilla and Mathilde Peche — and doggy bags (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Mixed berry cobbler with lemon verbena whipped cream (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

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