Clams and Cedars

I grew up going to Long Beach Island in New Jersey. The township is called Loveladies, which I thought was a funny name when I was a kid. I still think it is a funny name. So is the name of the next town over; Harvey Cedars. Harvey Cedars sounds like he should be telling jokes along the Borscht Belt.

On a bright September day, I walked my bike to the road and saw a line of cedars. I mean, I really saw them. They were soft and friendly-looking. Back before LBI had a name, workers would harvest seaweed and salt hay in the “Great Swamp”. Harvey Cedars was once Harvest Quarters where the workers slept and according to Ocean County’s website, “Harvey Cedars” is a portmanteau. Cedars once enveloped the island. I thought of photographs from the early 1970s of my grandparents’ house, surounded by the dark evergreens and backlight by the horizon.

Contentment comes from within, but taking a walk through the larger dunes on the northern end of the island can help it along. Bike rides, oil paints and a stack of books are all helpful. It seems like the time when we gear up for fall. We refuel, we gather inspiration, we reset. We look ahead to the upcoming season of business. Things slow down enough to so that you really experience what others are saying to you. You notice the odd things strangers do or the nice things strangers do.

When I go down the shore, the past pops up here and there. There are vivid memories of the magical sand bars; pools nature made for kids far off the beach. It felt lawless! Where was mom? Still on the beach! Fortunately for us and for our mothers, there’s only so much mischief you can get into with two feet of water. You could do handstands and to go clamming, basically.

I remember a man in his sixties standing with the water just above his knees. Wearing a pair of khaki shorts, he was scooping Atlantic surf clams (just surf clams as we called them) out of the sand, opening them with his pocket knife and swallowing them whole. These things are the size of your hand. I thought he was pretty cool. I attempted to grab them out of the sand, but I had no pocket knife and no goggles and went back to shore without the thrill of food that fresh.

This gives you a window into the kind of kid I was. I was more interested in trying to eat a live mollusk than in playing Marco Polo with my cousins. While surf clams are typically cut into strips and fried, I admired the guy’s commitment to the deliciousness of clams. I think he was onto something.

There is so much of my personal food history nestled in the land of salty fog and blue crab cages, but I returned from this trip without having cooked at all. This is different for me, but great in its own way. Not far from Loveladies is Old Barney the lighthouse. He stands stoic and pragmatic over a few ice cream stands and seafood joints. Not far from there is Kubel’s Bar, where they shuck local clams for you through the off season. No, not a recipe really and not at all fancy. Yet somehow, enjoying them with family and looking out at the last sunset of the season, the meal was more than food. It was a reverie. I will happily take it with me into the cooler months.

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