The fortunes that idled on a beach and in a bank
Perc Sane is not truly the fellow's name. He is really Mike Brown who lives at Duck Trap, Maine, and writes wonderful stories about his old man and lobsters and assorted neighbors. One of his better characters is an enterprising kid who is already rich from his route to sell clam juice to the summer people.
Clam juice is just simply the salt water after you've steamed a mess of long-neck or hard-shell Maine clams, as for a clam bake. The clam is an idle animal that keeps to himself in tidal mud and derives his nourishment from ocean water, which he squirts after using - betraying his lurking presence. Clam diggers look for squirts and know where to start.
You never need to add water to steam clams. In early times the juice from a mess of clams was hove away, and in clam factories where they cooked clams in mass for tin cans, they had waste pipes back to the ocean. I believe a smart man named Brad Look, who lived down around Cape Split, first offered clam juice in bottles as a breakfast drink or a pantry condiment to brace the flavor of fish dishes.
There are many stories about Mr. Look. He always said there was no money in packing clams, but rather than lay off his sardine crew he'd put them to packing clams and absorb the loss during blueberry time. This made for good feeling, and the money involved wasn't that much. But then he found there was a good market for bottled clam juice, and he didn't dump any more back in the ocean.
During World War II, the Office of Price Administration asked Look to pack clams for Lend-Lease to the Russians, and he said sure, but he'd need bottles for juice as well as cans for clams. In OPA days, bottles and cans were hard to find. They said they didn't want juice, just clams. He said, "Fine - no bottles, no clams, and that's it." I guess you had to be there to understand anything like that now, but that was the whole tale of the canned clams for Russia.
Now, about lobster stew. About 1930 a teenage girl left home in Waterville, Maine, to seek her fortune in Boston. She was Marjorie Meader, a grocer's daughter, and by astute handling of what she knew about groceries she became household editor of the Boston Herald as Marjorie Mills. Then she became the radio voice of an advertising agency, and soon Radio WBZ set her up with a network that gave her the biggest radio audience in the country.
Every noontime, all radios were tuned to Marjorie Mills and her household talks with guests. Her biggest success and her biggest flop was the day Grace Little of Southport came to tell how to make an honest, true, down-Maine lobster stew.
The buildup for this was terrific. Marjorie pumped it daily for a good month, and all the Maine papers joined in the promotion, each trying to find a local cook better able than Grace, who Marjorie claimed was Maine's best authority on the subject.
When the day came, Grace was in Boston, and the flagship studio at WBZ was jampacked. "Now," said Marjorie, "I introduce Gracious Gracie from the Coast of Maine at Southport, who will tell us what we've been waiting for: The only way, the right way, to make the real Maine lobster stew!" Carl deSuze, staff announcer who did the Marjorie Mills shows, held up an applause card and a tumult erupted.
Gracie cleared her throat and said, "Well, I put the picked-out meat in a pan with some butt-tuh and heat it right, and then add milk."
Marjorie: "How much milk?"
Grace: "Depends on how many people."
Marjorie: "But don't you heat the milk?"
Grace: "Eyah, so it don't curdle, but ever'body knows that. No need to tell 'em that!"
Marjorie: "So what do you do next?"
Grace: "Eat it."
Another story about this man Look down at Cape Split has to do with his borrowing money at the bank to cover his losses when he packed clams. He went to Bar Harbor to see Mr. Mc- Kown at the trust company, and he said, "As you know, I like to pack clams two to three weeks to keep my crew busy until blueberry time, but things look bad this summer, and I don't know what to do. If I pack clams and go behind $4,000 or $5,000 more'n usual, will the bank cover me until I can catch up?"
To which Banker McKown said, "Of course, Brad. But why would you borrow for that? Why don't you use some of your idle money in your wife's joint household account? It lays there, and she's never spent a tenth of what your bookkeeper deposits every week. Last audit I saw she was carrying $60,000 and I been meaning to speak to you about it."
Clam juice should be added to any Maine lobster stew, to bring out the flavor. Not too much, but enough. Just before you add the milk.