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Suplee has fond memories of manoes

Many times over, I am sure, my wife has questioned her sanity as to why she married me.  During the first few years of dating, we would drive from Baltimore to Denton to visit my mother, and every time we would pass a certain store, I would audibly wonder as to whether they were selling manoes, or softshell clams.
We probably made that trip 40 times, and I asked the same question at the same portion of every blasted trip.  It drove her crazy, but she still said “yes,” so I guess that says something.  
For me, manoes hold a special place in my heart because I have adored them ever since I was in the highchair.  I would fight for them tooth and nail when an older sibling would mess with me and pretend to take them away.  
As a child, I was often tormented by my older siblings, and there were a lot of them.  Vicki and Christi were a good number of years older than me, as were Brian and Mary, although the latter was at least a part of my generation (I only wrote that in the off chance that any of my siblings actually read this).  Then there were Andy, Fred and Danny.
To add to the list, we sponsored midshipmen at the academy for years, so our summer seafood feasts would number in the 20s or 30s with crabs, manoes, fresh corn and other area tidbits for which we yearned.
We would also frequent Cantler’s Riverside Inn, a shanty-style seafood joint outside of Annapolis that owns its boats, a great advantage when offering expensive shellfish by the boatload.  A bucket of steamers and a couple of beers was all that one would need to enjoy the back creek view.  Added to the ambiance of country music in the background and all beers coming in cans-only, it made for a good day.
When we moved to this area 16 years ago, I figured it would be easy to find manoes, but I was sadly mistaken.  I was informed that these fine mollusks are rockfish bait and nothing more.  But I pressed on in my quest for the perfect bivalve.  So far, the only place I have been able to find them is Harris Teeter in Selbyville and even there they are sporadic, as they don’t last long. They are delicious.  There’s just something about these shellfish that I absolutely adore.
Now if you decided to try some, which you should, I need to tell you that you can offer them up with melted whole butter, clarified butter or brown butter.  Any of them are equally right in that you know what you want.  If you want a flavorless oil, choose clarified.  If you would like the body of butter and the flavors of the milk solids and proteins that complete the package, then dip in melted whole butter (with salt, of course).
If, however, you were drawn (get it?) into the brown butter debate in one of my recent articles, then go for this final option.  There is something about brown butter that goes wonderfully with lobster, clams, shrimp et al.
And now I must address the final piece of the puzzle – the seafood seasoning.  You know how I feel about Old Bay, so I won’t go there.  I respect the company and the product, especially considering its longevity, but I prefer JO Spice, another Baltimore favorite.
Recently, a coworker gave me a jar of his Smith Island Seafood Spice that he will be pushing out to market soon.  I was pleased that it was a happy medium between Old Bay and JO Spice and I like a good compromise, and this promised to be just that.
And as I finish my first bowl of steamers in a few years, I relish the thought of finding them again and reliving a little piece of my childhood that I hold so dear.

Nap Town Steamers
Enough for me
3lb Fresh manoes
1 c. white wine
1 lemon, cut in wedges
1 c. Drawn butter (See article)
Seafood seasoning of your liking

Fill tub with salted water so that it is approximately the same salinity level as our local bays.  Ensure that the water is cool, so maybe 75 degrees or so.
Place the clams in the water for at least two hours to help them purge some of the sand that will be in their system.
When you are confident that the clams are clean enough to eat, heat about 1 cup of water and the wine in a pan with a tight fitting lid.
Add the clams and steam until all of the clams are open and the meat is firm, and this will depend on the level of steam, etc.  Today when I made them it took about 7 minutes.  Monitor and experiment.  The happy part is that you still get to eat the failed experiments after you fix them.
When done, remove to a bowl and strain liquid into another bowl for dipping.
Arrange some other bowls with lemon wedges, melted butter and seafood seasoning and serve.
To eat, peel skin off of the “snout” and dip the clam in the broth, butter and seasoning.