Monday, March 30, 2009

Plump, pregnant periwinkles

The fog was thicker than pea soup today in Dorchester, Mass. It was as white and dense as a simmered, dairy-based chowder full of heavy cream and potato starch. The air had that briny, low tide, cloying odor that can only mean one thing in Savin Hill. Periwinkles are pregnant again.

After their winter hiatus, hibernating in the sandy mud of Malibu Beach, the periwinkle population is propagating again. They mate like rabbits in slow motion underwater and then pull themselves up into the intertidal zone to deposit their zygotes. At low tide, the beach is studded with little spurs that prick the tender spots of barefooted shellfishermen. The water is still cold this time of year so most people wear boots.

March's periwinkles sport imperially sized shells they've spent the last few months improving under the Dorchester Yacht Club's piers. The winkles are fat and sluggish and ripe for the stewpot as any long-time Dorchesterite knows. Malibu Beach wasn't crowded today, but there were plenty of people out with pails plucking up periwinkles for their evening repast. The beach wasn't picked clean by the time low tide turned into high, but the buckets were full.

The preparation is a bit of a chore. You have to steam them first and them pierce them with a toothpick to extract them from their shells. Then you dump a mess of winkles into a pot filled with either tomatoes or olive oil and vinho verde. Garlic is essential no matter which recipe you use. The sauce gets poured over pasta or rice depending on the household tradition. No matter how they are cooked, the arrival of periwinkles on Malibu Beach is proof that spring has arrived and summer can't be far behind.

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