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Hot, Salted Clam Cakes: A Reason to Live

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As an Abenaki, and proud of it, I wanted to revisit some old favorite foods and relive the thrill of those first mouthfuls. The kind that make you say to yourself, “Oh, yeah, I knew I was alive for a reason.” Clams said that to me. 

RELATED: Dale Carson Recounts a Legend of the Guardian of Seafood Bounty (Includes a recipe for broiled or grilled appetizer clams.)

My introduction was in the form of hot, salted clam cakes from a roadside stand. I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old. Today, I make pretty good ones a few times a year. To buy them commercially, you have to run all over the New England coastline. Then, it is a crap shoot whether or not they are greasy globs or heavenly handfuls.

 I was introduced to the ultimate form of clam luxury, that being the raw morsels on the half-shell with a lemon squeeze and a nice horseradish/ketchup dab to suck down rapidly—pure health and orgasmic. Oyster lovers may say the same.

RELATED: Dale Carson's Ode to Oysters

These raw clams will always be my favorite but, and a big but, there were a few years when it was ‘iffy’ ordering or even buying them. Growing up they were always pristine and totally delicious, then along came the evil pollution along our waterways and coastline. 

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Once a friend brought us a pillowcase full of cherrystones from Block Island; they were immaculate, not the dirty, often oil-soaked bi-valves we had been forced to endure for some time. These clean clams from an island out many miles in the ocean were memorable, but the pollution got worse and it was a long time before we got decent clams again. Even now, with all the so called regulations in place for food safety, I still find it essential to ask the locale and origin of the product. Clams, in all their popular presentations, canned, or in chowder, fried whole-belly or stripes, in dips and sauces have become part of the national larder.

Back home, I remember my beloved uncle coming down to the beach with me and opening a couple of clams for us with his handy-dandy clam knife and slurping down a couple before taking home our bucket full. That may happen today in rare locations on the coast of Maine or Cape Cod, but I still have my memories and they are precious.

Clam Cakes

1 can of chopped or minced clams (chilled)
½ bottle, or more clam juice (or ice water)
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg white
1 pinch of each: salt, white pepper, and sugar

Mix all together until it forms a thick batter, more flour might be necessary. Drop by teaspoon fulls into very hot vegetable oil (1/2-1 inch). Do not go away. Keep cakes moving until browned or golden on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. You may want to sprinkle more salt on them.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.