“Black wampum,” made from the heart of the large quahog shell, was strung into bands or belts and ”served for money in the eastern colonies until the end of the 17th century.” (Quahog, by the way, is the Algonquin Indian name for all the hard-shell clams, including littlenecks, cherrystones and chowder clams.)
Clearly, settlers of these shores have had a passion for clams in almost any form almost since the moment they arrived here. And we are among them. Because of our fondness for clams, we recently spent a good deal of time in our kitchen preparing them according to ”our own fashion.” The dishes that evolved included mushrooms stuffed with clams flavored with tarragon, baked clams with a snail butter and walnuts, and clams in a black-bean and oyster sauce. The last recipe is actually a slight variation on the Chinese version of the dish we created several years ago while writing a Chinese cookbook with the late Virginia Lee.
In preparing these dishes, it is important to remember that clams are best – whether eaten raw on the half shell or cooked – when they are opened with a clam knife just shortly before they are to be eaten or cooked. And they can be opened more easily if they are well chilled. Put them in the freezer for a few minutes to insure this, but take care that they do not freeze.