From the ages of three to the age of five we lived just outside of Seattle, about two miles from Puget Sound. My dad and Grandfather had bought a piece of land in the woods. We lived in a trailer, onto which dad had built a huge porch with a laundry room.
For young boys this is heaven. I, along with my older brothers, Nick and Mike, spend our days playing in a magical, overgrown forest. Lost, in a deep green sea of waist high ferns and moss covered, giant cedars reaching up to the sky, knowing full well that there are elves, fairies and goblins hiding just out of sight.
We have chickens, a goat and a dog, named Coco. Coco is my best friend. Dad says, Coco is a Chinese chow-chow, but I ‘m quite sure that she is a lion with her big soft mane, chocolate brown fur and Purple tongue.
Living so close to the sound, we enjoy the very freshest fish and seafood year-round. Hearing my parents up, I wander out, rubbing my eyes in my red, one piece, pJ’s, complete with white, thin, plastic soles and trap door in the seat. I sit down at the little white, Formica table that is attached to the wood paneled trailer wall.
“What are you doing up Joey,” mom asks, as she pours hot water into a thick white mug followed by an envelope of light brown powder, making me a cup of hot chocolate.
She hands me the mug. I blow on the steaming brew and the air is filled with a sweet chocolaty aroma.
“I heard you and dad talking.” I say.
Dad is wearing a big yellow rain coat and I notice his black rubber, rain boots with the muddy, pale red soles are sitting by the door. Mom is finishing making a bologna sandwich on white bread, spreading the bright yellow mustard and adding a thin slice of red onion and some Velveeta cheese.
Putting the sandwich in dad’s dented up, black, lunch box, she says, “Your father is going clam digging, with uncle Chuck.”
Excitedly I cut in, “Oh, oh can I go… can I, please?”
“Joey, it's going to be cold and rainy on the beach and you still have the sniffles…not this time.” says dad. But when we come back you can help me cook the clams.
Dad picks me up and tosses me over his shoulder, spinning me around so I land on his back. We all walk out on the big, wooden porch. It’s still dark out. We can hear the red, work truck warming up. The air is cool and moist and filled with the delicious scents of the lush forest, mixed with the smell of burning oil and exhaust from the truck. There’s something comforting about that smell.
Dad hands me off to mom, pats my head and gives mom a kiss. Off he goes to meet his buddies and dig butter clams. They fill two five-gallon tins and bring them back to our trailer, where the other men’s wives and about twenty kids are waiting for the clam feast.
As soon as dad gets back he goes to work cooking. Standing at the big double basin laundry sink, he says, “Joey, come and watch, I’ll teach you how to make the best clams you’ve ever tasted.”
I climb up on the counter and watch him work.
As he carefully picks through the clams discarding any that are open, he says, “most folks will tell you to soak the clams in fresh water and corn-meal to remove the sand, but our well water is so pure and sweet that I just let the cold water run over them for an hour or so, and this removes all the sand and grit.”
One sink is filled with water and in the other is a huge metal colander. Dad sets all the good clams in the sink filled with water. When he is finished discarding any open or cracked clams he then rubs any loose sand or mud from the clams in the sink filled with water placing the clean clams in the colander. As the water splashes over the clams the fresh smell of the ocean is reminding us of the feast to come.
Dad helps lets and me down the water run as he goes in to take a shower.
I go in and watch mom. First she takes several cloves of fresh garlic and crushes them with the side of her big kitchen knife. Then she removes the thin white skin from the crushed garlic cloves. Next she takes the garlic cloves and removes the hard, dried out end of each clove. And then she chops the garlic very fine. A big iron skillet is on the stove she adds a little olive oil and after the skillet is hot she adds the garlic, sautéing it until it just starts to brown. Then she adds several sticks of butter and reduces the heat. When the butter is all melted she cuts two fresh lemons in half and squeezes them holding an old wire strainer over the skillet to catch the seeds.
Dad comes out after his shower, in a fresh white tee shirt and blue jeans. He smells like "Old Spice" after shave, it's a smell that still reminds me of him 50 years later. My dad having our genetic disposition toward loving food gets right back to the cooking. He lightly simmers the fresh clams covered in water only, for about ten minutes, then discards any that don’t open, pointing this out to explaining that they are bad. They are served in batches, with their cooking liquid, lemon and mom's garlic butter, and eaten as soon as they hit the table, with dad cooking he won't get a clam for at least an hour (if at all). They are so full of flavor that the adults drink the cooking liquid, or clam liquor as they call it.
After lunch my grandmother Rose brings out her legendary Black berry cobbler, made fresh from berries us kids had picked in the woods. It's hard to explain how delicious this cobbler is. My brother Mike and I often talked about it decades later while working construction as adults. The kids descend on the cobbler like locust, while the adults enjoy coffee or some of Rosie's home made beer.
This is my Grandma Rose's famous recipe. Our family loves this wonderful dessert. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
24 OZ Fresh blackberries
3/4 C Sugar
1-1/2 TBL Corn starch
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 C Flour
3/4 C Sugar
1/2 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Baking powder
1 Large egg
1/4 C butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 375∫.
2. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a low boil. Place 6 ounces of blackberries and lemon juice in a blender and puree. Add to the saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Put remaining berries in a bowl and carefully mix in cornstarch and sugar, trying not to break up berries. Carefully fold in the warm berry mixture. Spoon mixture into an 8x8-inch baking dish or pie pan.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add egg and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over blackberry mixture and drizzle with melted butter.
5. Bake for 45 minutes or until topping is a deep, golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream and good coffee.