Much of my project here is about looking at things in the natural world. Looking, and discovering, and sharing. This is just a fragment of clam shell that I picked up at JBWR last weekend, but I was delighted by the detail. Click on the image to open it up: you can see the animal’s successive stages of growth.
Clams add a new layer to their shells each year, so these are like the growth rings in trees. The earliest little nub of a shell, smaller than my pinky nail, is still here. This vestige is the umbo, or beak.
Such hardshell clams can live a quarter century, but they have the unfortunate characteristic, for them, of being delicious throughout their lives.
Hardshells are also known as quahogs, which is a wonderful word taken from the Narragansett “poquauhock.” The scientific name Mercenaria mercenaria points to the famous wampum, the internal purple edges of these bivalve shells, which were carved into beads by the original Americans. (Europeans introduced the idea that wampum was money.) The pink hearts of whelks were also used. Long Island, whose southwestern end shelters Brooklyn, was known to the originals as “the land of the shells.” Older sources called this species Venus mercenaria, the goddess of love on the half shell.
In the clam eating business, the hardshell clam is also called the little neck and the cherrystone, raw bar stalwarts, depending on age. “Quahogs” are older, hence tougher, and used in chowders, and in that Manhattan clam and tomato soup that is tasty, but not, I’m afraid, chowder.
A fragment, to be sure, but one rich in biological, historical, linguistic, and culinary associations.
BTW, the specimen was posed on the surface of a surf clam picked up at Fort Tilden. But that’s another posting…