Pioneer Potluck: Clam digging with Leatha

This week’s recipes: Annie B’s clam chowder, fast-track clam or oyster chowder, seafood macaroni salad

  • Tuesday, September 10, 2019 10:49pm
  • Life

Clam Gulch

1972 or ’73

My other first friend in Alaska when I first got to Alaska was Leatha Earll. She is the gal who shared everything she baked with me and the kids. I will never forget the homemade breads, cookies and cakes and once in a while a pie! She taught me a lot about sharing what little you have with someone else who had very little also. Her generosity was so much appreciated. We sewed for our kids and made welding shirts and hats for our husbands.

At little background here. I was married to Richard in 1969 — he had three cute little girls and I had two cute little girls and a handsome son, David. All were about the same age. He was sorta the king, as the girls relied on him to “fix” things — bikes mostly! But in turn they had to make his bed or clean his room.

So at that time our family consisted of five girls and a boy. When we went anywhere we went as a “herd” to quote my Dad. We had a new Ford four-wheel-drive pickup and we just piled in and never gave a thought to seat belts and chair seat. There were teeth marks on the padded dash from the little kids sitting on our laps though! A rough patch in the dirt road or a quick stop put the little ones right up against the dash, so they survived “by the skin of their teeth!”

When it came time for the clam tides and clam digging, we would load up our families and off we go to Clam Gulch. Most of the time during the clam tides it was sunny and warm but once in a while the cold wind blowing off the water and down the beach was bone chilling.

We would dig clams until our fingers were frozen inside our mittens. We would just clean off the sand and the mud and stick them in our pockets until they warmed up. Usually we worked in groups of twos — the digger with the shovel and the kid that lay down in the sand-mud and stuck their hands in the clam hole to pull out their prize. In the early ’70s the clams were very large and very plentiful. Our limit was 60 per clam license. Digging usually lasted about two hours and we were ready to carry our buckets up the beach, up the long, long steep hill to our pickups and cars. That climb up the steep hill was the most dreaded of the day!

Then Leatha and her husband Gene bought a four-wheel-drive pickup with the big cab-over-camper that could be driven down on the beach so the littlest of the kids could get warm inside the camper.

After planning a clam digging trip for about a week, one not-so-warm early morning, Leatha and I, her four kids and my six kids went clam digging. Gene and Richard were working and clam season does not wait. We were tough, strong and thought we had the ability to do most anything. AND so we did!

We accomplished our dreams most of the time. It took a lot of planning the night before — making sure every kid had a warm coat, warm hat, two or three pair of warm mittens and rubber boots with two or three pair of spare socks. We also made cookies and packed peanut butter and jelly and three loaves of bread.

We zinged down to Clam Gulch with 10 kids in the camper! Kids from 13 years down to 3 years were singing, playing or sleeping in the back in the camper, Leatha driving and me jabbering. We were catching up on the latest gossip. We were about as happy as we could be. (Happy as a clam?)

We planned what we were going to do with the clams once we got them and how our husbands would be so proud of us. Most of the time during clam tides the husbands were on the platforms or working many, many hours a day in the oil fields. It was up to us if we wanted clams to can or freeze for the rest of the year. Some of the time the whole families would go to Clam Gulch on a Sunday morning and spend the day “catching clams.” That was fun too!

Leatha carefully drove down the steep hill onto the clam beach. The high tides the week before had left a “shelf.” She slowly dropped off the shelf onto the beach and drove to a spot and parked. Everyone got dressed in boots and coats, hats and gloves and piled out of the camper, bigger kids in charge of littler kids. Leatha, the older kids and I had clam shovels and off we marched down to the shoreline to look for “dimples” in the sand. Forever etched in my mind is little kids of various sizes with their little butts stuck in the air looking for dimples! They were good at it!!

This particular day we had our limit in about two hours and were more than ready to get the cold, wet, muddy, sandy kids back in the camper. They too, were ready to get their sand-caked coats and boots off, and we warned them to brush sand off before they got in the camper. With everyone in and settled, we pushed the clam-filled buckets in the aisle. I got in to make peanut butter and “jolly” sandwiches. Before Leatha closed the camper door and started the pickup, told everyone to hold on “‘cause she might have to hit the shelf a little hard” to get up and over the shelf and then up the steep sand-covered trail to the top. Not too many were listening to her as the thought of a peanut butter and “jolly” sandwich danced around in their minds.

I opened the bread wrapper and had two or three sandwiches made and handed out, when Leatha “wound-up” the pickup to get over the shelf — she hit the shelf straight on — bounced up over the shelf and roared up the hill in four-wheel drive like a pro at a NASCAR race track!

The problem with that was all the kids and I in the camper were bouncing around in and out of the beds, hanging onto anything that we could hang onto, including our peanut butter and jolly sandwiches.

The clams bounced and jumped out of the buckets, a bucket turned over, the peanut butter and jelly and the open loaf of bread ended up on the floor in the sandy muck. The clams and I ended up cattywampus wedged up against the door on the floor. Clams, muddy inlet water, sand and gray mud splattered everywhere! In our hair, on the ceiling, on the beds and on every piece of clothing in the camper! It happened so fast that we were still sitting in a shocked position when Leatha pulled the truck up to the top of the hill, stopped and got out to get her a peanut butter sandwich and let me get in the front seat with her.

When she opened the door to the camper, clams and muddy water went pouring out and kids were either screaming, crying or laughing, mostly because their sandwich had sand in it! I uncurled from my wedged position, crawled out of the camper, looked at Leatha, who had an extremely shocked look on her face and we started to laugh! We laughed and laughed — the kids laughed — then demanded another sandwich without sand in it. Leatha told me she was not too sure I should get in front with her because I was dripping from the muddy clam water and sand in my hair!

We got clams back in the buckets, kids back in the beds after scraping off sand and mud from hair, clothes, blankets and bed. We straightened the clam buckets and hung up the coats and pushed the boots back under the beds. “Everyone ready?” asked Leatha, “Sure — can I have another sandwich?” Good thing we brought three loaves of bread!

I am sure that camper bore the marks of clam juice, inlet mud, silty gray water and peanut butter and jolly for a long time!

I love this story and have told it many times. Kids were so resilient and so forgiving and besides that, it was fun!

Thank You Leatha — for a wonderful memory!!

ANNIE B’S CLAM CHOWDER

1 pint of frozen clam pieces, partially thawed. Grind with medium blade on grinder. Then grind one peeled potato to clean the grinder and pour in a small amount of warm water to rinse out.

In a large glass pot or Instansa-pot or Crock-Pot, put sautéed:

1 large onion, diced

1⁄2 cup celery, sliced

1⁄4 diced red or green bell pepper, optional

2 small carrots, sliced thin

4 medium potatoes diced in 1⁄2-inch cubes

Sautéed in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place in pot and add:

1 can of chicken broth and bring to boil with the ground clams

Simmer on very low heat for about 1⁄2 hour or more.

Add:

1 quart of milk

1 can evaporated milk

A pinch of garlic salt, basil, parsley and cayenne

Let simmer until hot and add:

2 tablespoons cornstarch to 1⁄4 cup milk — stream slowly into the hot soup and stir until thick.

Ladle into soup bowls and top with a pat of butter, sprinkle of black pepper and parsley.

Grilled cheese sandwiches or crackers and butter are excellent for this tasty soup.

SEAFOOD MACARONI SALAD

This is a very good picnic salad.

Any combination of fish along with shrimp and crab, use your imagination

Boil two eggs — cool and peel. Set aside.

Place in large mixing bowl:

4 cups cooked screwdoodles, shellroni and left over spaghetti (4 cups)

Add:

1 chopped onion

1⁄2 cup each chopped green yellow and red pepper

3 stalks of celery

1 can of button mushrooms, drained and patted dry

1 small can of sliced black olives, well drained

1⁄2 lemon, sliced very thin and slices cut in two

Mix in smaller bowl:

1 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1⁄4 teaspoon each black pepper and cayenne pepper

Or use the mayonnaise and sour cream and 1⁄2 package of Uncle Dan’s dry Ranch dressing in place of spices

Mix together with 1⁄4 cup buttermilk — you may have to use more

Fold into the macaroni and vegetables and the thin lemon slices.

Use as much fish as you desire. I used one cups of chunked salmon.

1 cup of chunked halibut

1 cup of either cooked salad shrimp or larger shrimp cut in half

Imitation crab 1 cup or more

Fold into mixture. You may have to add more dressing

Place in large serving bowl and garnish with sliced egg and thinly sliced lemon twists.

Cover and chill at least 6 to 8 hours.

FAST TRACK CLAM OR OYSTER CHOWDER

1 cup chopped onion

1⁄2 cup celery sliced

Sauté in butter until tender soft

Add 2 cans of cream of potato soup, undiluted

1 1⁄2 cans of evaporated milk

3 cans of minced clams in liquid or oysters in liquid

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1⁄4 teaspoon thyme and black pepper

Heat very slowly — stir often until hot enough to serve in deep bowls with a pat of butter floating on top.

Pass the oyster crackers. Diced bacon is good on top also.


• By ANN “GRANNIE ANNIE” BERG, For the Peninsula Clarion


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