Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Piss what?!

I was at the seafood counter in the grocery store recently checking out the clams. They had a good supply of little necks and cherry stones, so I asked the man behind he counter, “Do you have piss clams?”

He looked puzzled, so I repeated. “Piss clams. Do you have piss clams?”

“Piss what?” he asked.

Before I had a chance to repeat myself again, the small, dark-haired Italian woman standing next to me who was patiently reading the sales circular while she waited her turn, blurted out, “Piss clams! Piss clams!” as she waved her hand around as if that would make him understand. She glanced at me and said, “I know what you want. The clams with the tail hanging out.”

I shook my head in affirmation.

“Oh you mean steamers,” the man said proudly, and headed to the back room where, for some unknown reason, the clams in question are kept out of the public eye.

For me, these funky-looking clams conjure up memories of nights at the Jersey shore, sifting through the bucket to find the biggest ones before anyone else grabbed them. Then came the fun part. Oh so carefully peeling the brown, thin skin off the tail, then swirling the clam in the hot broth to clean it, then a dip (or two) in the melted butter, and finally one big gulp down the hatch.

I remember how my father would be totally skeeved when I ate the tail. “You’re not supposed to eat that,” he’d say and wrinkle his face. “It’s just there so you can hold it to dunk.”  (This from a man who dunked bologna sandwiches in his coffee, but that’s a whole other story.)

Luke and my dad crabbing at the Jersey shore. 
My mother, as usual, debated. “Don’t listen to your father. You can eat the tail.”  (This from a woman who made us raw ground beef sandwiches for lunch. Again, a whole other story.)

And this was the conversation that took place every year when we had our first bucket of the summer.

I left the grocery store with my piss clams in hand and set them out with dinner that night.  My son Luke and I dug in. He held the tail tightly between his pointer finger and thumb, dunked the clam first in the broth, then in the butter, and then bit the clam off the tail. I peeled, dunked, dunked and popped it in my mouth like an aspirin.

He stared at me silently for a second and then said with disgust, “That’s just gross. You’re not supposed to eat the tail.”

I just smiled.