Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tomatoes and clams

We hesitate to use the word Clamato in the title since this word is trademarked by the Mott's company, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. Food historians have long stated on the record that clamato, in lower-case, untrademarked, generic parlance, was invented by two Mott's food scientists in 1966 in Hamlin, NY. Yes, this is the same Mott's that makes the wonderful. triple-purified apple juice children love so much.

Local lore doesn't discount that Mott's was the first company to commercially market clamato, but the idea that a mixture of clam juice and tomato juice had to be invented by white-coated eggheads in a corporate laboratory rankles the sensibilities of long standing Dorchesterites. Farragut McWhistler, who has lived in Port Norfolk all his life, and I were discussing this at the Mud House in Neponset the other morning. "My dear, sweet mother used to muddle clams in a mash of tomatoes and put it in my bottle," he said.

He said his mother had gotten the recipe from her mother-in-law, who's maiden name was Everett, and who had inherited this bit of baby-rearing wisdom from that side of the family living at Port Norfolk for generations. "Dorchester Bay little necks make the best broth for a baby," he continued, "I believe I have lived as long as I have because I was weaned from my sweet mother's teat with a nip of the sea by way of the garden." I asked him what he thought of bottled clamato available in the Stop & Shop on Morrisey Boulevard.

"I don't care for it much," he said. "I make my clamato myself, with no extra ingredients, the way my family always has. I know I'm not supposed to go shell fishing in the Bay, the Commonwealth forbids it, but I've got a clam rake and I wake up early before the sun comes up. I'm not bothering anyone and I know most of the fellows in the harbor patrol. We leave each other alone, just wave, ask how things are in general, and no sir, I haven't seen anything illegal going on in the Bay."

Mr. McWhistler cleared his throat. "The way I see it, I've been eating Dorchester clams all my seventy-three years. I don't see a reason to stop now. I don't muddle them with mortar and pestle the way my mother did. I use a food processor and I make my clamato year-round. I can buy store-bought tomatoes any time of year in the supermarket. They aren't as good as the garden variety, but winter leads to lean times and you take what you can get."

I asked Mr. McWhistler if he ever sold his clamato. "No, I don't. It's illegal to go shell fishing for yourself let alone to pawn the clams off on a buyer. I figure I'm not hurting anything but my own robust constitution (he pounded his chest) and the law knows this so they leave me alone. If I sold the clams and somebody got food poisoning, the cops would be all over me in a minute. I like to keep my nose, as well as my arteries and gut, clean."

I asked Mr. McWhistler if I could taste his product. He replied, "Sorry, sonny. That's against the rules. I only make this tonic for myself. It's a shame I can't share it but the rules are the rules. If you want some genuine Dorchester clamato you'll have to make it yourself. Be advised, though, Boston Harbor Management regulations forbid it."

Our coffee finished, I walked Farragut McWhistler to his car parked on Neponset Avenue. "It's too late in the morning to go clamming now. Too many people can see you. If you want to rake up a mess of clams off Tenean or Malibu Beach, the sky has to be pitch. I'm going across Neponset Circle to Ups and Downs and then I'm going home. I always drink my clamato before I go to sleep and then when I wake up in the early hours. It keeps me young, I tell you, but you have to make it yourself to get the full effect."

I don't own a clam rake but Mr. McWhislter's constitution seems to be resilient enough that there may be some truth in his testimony of the rejuvenating powers of Dorchester Bay clam meat, especially when mixed with tomatoes grown in Dorchester soil. As he says, he has been supping on this since he was in the cradle. I have a lot of catching up to do. Maybe I'll just take my vitamins.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails