Lottie: Clam spaghetti

Eddie Fisher, Anytime

It was July, 1952 and we were on our way from Nebraska to Vashon Island. The windows in our 1944 Buick were rolled down, Eddie Fisher crooned Anytime on the radio, Daddy smoked a cigar in the driver’s seat, Muth smoked a cigarette in the passenger’s seat, and we three (slightly greenish) girls roamed free in the back. Nikki claimed the entire back seat, Ginny nested on the rear window well, and I curled up on the floor. The hours and miles sped by while we read our books, hissed under our breath at each other (”Girls, don’t make me stop this car!”), cut out paper dolls, unrolled toilet paper through a crack in the back window, played License Plate Bingo, and dozed. As rest stops were yet to come, Daddy pulled over along the roadside to stretch his legs and let the pups out. Muth smoothed out an oilcloth, opened the brown sack from home, and doled out baloney sandwiches. We peed in the bushes, collected rocks and bottle caps, and made dandelion chains.

There was no interstate, so we drove along Highway 12 through Aberdeen, Mobridge, Red Bud, Helena, Missoula, Lewiston and Olympia into Tacoma and Pt. Defiance. Each state had a distinct personality: South Dakota smelled like cows, Montana glowed mile upon mile with golden wheat, Washington stunned with green forests and tall mountains. We stopped at small, Mom & Pop motels or slept in the car if Daddy couldn’t find one, ate warm baloney sandwiches until they were gone, then stopped in small-town cafes for open-faced turkey sandwiches, meat loaf, and chicken fried steak.

The trip was interminable—stop-and-going through each small downtown along the way—but we got unique glimpses of how people in other states lived. In 1962 John Steinbeck wrote, “When we get thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.” These days, when the Sweetie and I take one of our long drives, it’s hard to tell if we’re in Iowa, Idaho, or Illinois. You always know if you’re in Texas—you’ve been driving in the dust for at least two days.

Anyways, eventually we were on the 32-vehicle Pt. Defiance/Tahlequah boat, Skansonia. Lottie, my maternal grandmother who lived with Muth’s sister, Norma, wrote us charming letters about life on an island in the Northwest, but we were not prepared for the wonders of a ferry, magnificent Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound’s deep, cold waters, rafts full of barking seals, cormorants sitting on pilings spreading their wings to dry, clam chowder during the fifteen minute ferry ride, and the cool, briny aroma and exotic charm specific to Vashon.


The Skansonia, built in 1929, capacity 32 vehicles

John Hinterberger was a longtime columnist and restaurant critic for the Seattle Times. Over the years many variations of his famous recipe for clam spaghetti were published—this one is my favorite.

John Hinterberger’s Clam Spaghetti, makes 6 servings 

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red chilis
  • 1 large onion, chopped 
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced or mashed 
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried 
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 2 cans (6.5 ounces each) chopped clams, drained with liquid reserved 
  • 1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced 
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti 
  • 1 cup chopped parsley 
  • Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup black olives 
  • sliced Pimento, chopped (optional) 

1. Put 1/2 cup olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet and heat slowly. Add the dried chili pepper, chopped onion and garlic. Cook slowly for about 30 minutes or until the onions are very soft. 

2. Add to pan the basil, oregano, salt and pepper, wine and liquid from the clams. Continue to simmer until some of the liquid is reduced down. Keep warm. In the meantime, sauté the mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter and add to the mixture. 

3. Bring kettle of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook spaghetti until just al dente (about 5 minutes). 

4. As pasta is cooking, add the clams, parsley and 3 tablespoons of cheese to the sauce and simmer at low heat for about five minutes. Add olives, pimento, if desired. 

5. Save 1/2 cup pasta water. Stir the pasta with pasta water into the sauce and toss. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese and serve directly from the skillet.

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