True grit

New Englanders pride themselves on their hardy stoicism. They take what comes, they persevere, they endure. If you’re going to get along here, you never complain about the weather, the traffic, or the fish not biting.

I think this is why steamers, popular in this neck of the woods, never caught on anywhere else. No matter what you do, steamers always, always, always have sand in them. You can scrub them scrupulously. You can swish them til the cows come home. There will always be sand. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but there’s always some.

It’s part of the experience, and it’s also a test. If you can’t stand a little sand in your clams, you don’t belong here.

Today, I harvested my first day lily shoots. Last spring, thanks to Euell “Try Anything” Gibbons, we discovered that they make excellent eating. We happened on a patch of them near the herring run in Dennis, and we brought home enough to make a side dish for the lamb ragout I was planning for dinner.

I washed them carefully. I did. I removed every speck of dirt I could see. I cut them up, I steamed them, I mixed in just a little butter. I ate one.

It was delicious, mild, a bit oniony, still with a little bite. But there was that crunch, crunch, crunch of grit. I thought maybe I just got a bad one, and I took another. Same thing.

Day lilies are built like leeks, and dirt can work itself farther down between the leaves than you ever thought possible. At least farther than I ever thought possible.

I ate a few, and Kevin ate a few, but we just couldn’t do it. The rest are going to the chickens, who have a use for grit in their food. Unless some real New Englanders would like them.

10 people are having a conversation about “True grit

  1. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander and you can’t tempt me with the day lilies, though I’ll always endure a bit of grit without complaint for a bucket of steamers.

    Re. steamers – I don’t know if this really works but my grandmother (Irish-Bostonian!)put cornmeal in the water. She said the steamers took up the cornmeal and purged the grit. I don’t know the ins and outs of this technique but her steamers were pretty grit-free. Maybe an old-timer in your part of CC would know about it?

  2. Mike — You can! And, unlike so many foraged foods, day lily shoots are genuinely first-rate. If you have them in your neck of the woods (we’re overrun with them), give them a try.

    Jen — I’ve heard about the cornmeal trick, but I’ve never tried it. Maybe next batch. Your grandmother, being Irish-Bostonian, definitely has street cred.

  3. I always soak my leeks for a few minutes in a bowl of hot water to dissolve the grit …scoop out the leeks, change the water and soak them for a second time scoop out the leeks again and then leave to drain. We’ve never had gritty leeks since I read about this in one of my cookbooks – sure it would work with the day lilies too.

  4. I have tried the cornmeal trick, they have to be rinsed really well otherwise you will have corn mush with your clams, but it does seem to work. I also heard hanging them in an onion bag from a dock or boat for an hour or two, purges them. Mom’s trick is a mug of hot clam broth, dunk in broth before butter. Yum. As for day lillies, wait until summer, and pick the buds. Cook them like green beans. They are a key ingrediant in Chinese Hot and Sour soup, although they dry them first. Yummy.

  5. Fiona — Thanks! I love it when people leave practical suggestions in the comments! I’ll try your method with my next batch. Oddly, I’ve never had gritty leeks, but I guess I just clean them more carefully than I did my day lilies.

    Rick — I’ve heard the onion bag trick, too. Alas, our waterfront is fresh water, and I wouldn’t want to de-brine steamers. As for the day lily buds, I had no idea they were key to Hot and Sour Soup! You know the weirdest stuff.

  6. Good call. I love leeks (my wife hates them) and scrub the daylights out of them, all the while knowing that I won’t get all of the dirt. The same goes for steamers.

    We use the same trick that Rick uses with steamers. Reserve a bit of the clam’s cooking broth for the initial, pre-butter dip. It’s not 100% effective, but better than not doing it.

  7. “As for the day lily buds, I had no idea they were key to Hot and Sour Soup! You know the weirdest stuff.”

    Thanks…it’s a gift.

  8. I grew up having steamers a lot in the summer. I think my grandfather usually got them on forays to Sampson’s Island. Or perhaps it was just Joe’s Lobster Mart. I don’t recall ever a problem with sand. I think grampa let them sit in a bucket of water (it was probably just tap water although you could try it with salt water) until they spit their sand. And yes, we always always each had a little dish of the hot clam broth from the steamer pot next to our melted butter.. swish swish and yum yum. The fresh water may de-brine them, but the clam broth re-brines them so you can enjoy grit free without losing any flavor!

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