Tuna Memories

Tuna Memories

My grandfathers — left to right Lawrence Edward Hauck and Joseph “Earl” Hovorka (the fisherman) Quinault Lake, 1963

My mother stocked a canned food pantry in our basement growing up in Kansas.  We had a large garden and she “put up” tomatoes, green beans, sour cherries, and cucumber pickles and relish. And any other yummy goodness when she could got her hands on it.  Occasionally, we had sand plum jelly and watermelon pickles (my favorite). But my grandmother, Katherine Hovorka, a good woman of Scottish heritage, was the queen of canning (she taught my mother her tricks of the trade).  My grandparents moved to Quinault, Washington, before I was born and enjoyed the lush gardening and fishing life found in the Pacific Northwest. Quinault Lake is located in the Olympic National Park and Rain Forest.  My childhood memories of staying with my grandparents with my family during the summers are epic.

One of my favorite memories is going to the beach to clam dig.  My grandpa had an old Jeep Waggoner that hauled all of us Hauck kids and our gear including sturdy buckets, shovels and clam rakes to the coast. We would get up before dawn and head out for the best clamming stops like Copalis Beach and others (see map below).  Grandma always asked the locals and checked official reports of where the best digging could be found before we ventured out. Technically,  clams can be found in muddy areas, freshwater or saltwater areas, but you do need to do a little work to dig them. Once you have located an area where there are clams, dig about 6 to 8 inches from the top to get the clams. Often times, clams will burrow deeper into the mud. A razor clam will often dig at least 12 inches below, only extending its neck for air.

Upon arrival, we would scour the sand and mud (best time is low tide) with guidance from grandma and my aunties, for the telltale signs of the favored razor clam.    The first clue we looked for when searching for the shy creatures, was a tiny dimple in the sand followed by a few water bubbles ( I used to think that the clam was farting).  I learned later that this is called a breathing hole.Then you dig as fast and deep as you can to catch the little muthers and when caught,  we flipped them into our sturdy buckets.  I shied away from what happened to the clams after catching them but I know my grandmother shucked them, made soups and salads and then proceeded to can the remainder while they were fresh.  This work was done back at the lake house in a special shed used just for this purpose.  Growing up in Kansas, my favorite savory shipment from my grandparents was canned tuna and other seafood.  This special delivery, just barely beat out the perfumed-laced bundle of evergreens and pine cones that arrived by letter carrier every December.  My grandfather loved to fish for tuna and salmon so whatever he caught, my grandmother canned and then shared with their family.  Looking for the perfect place for a summer vacation away from the heat of Texas?  Check out:  http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/accommodations/lake-quinault-lodge.aspx


I love canned tuna to this day.  It must be packed in oil.  On my recent visit with my sister-in-law, she shared a tip for purchasing canned tuna that is on point for taste and texture to Grandma’s.  The canning business is called Merino’s Seafood and you can order the fresh and canned goodness by the case.  http://www.merinoseafoods.com/  They fillet and hand pack each can of tuna, add a pinch of salt and cook the solid white albacore fish in its own juice. They don’t have online ordering yet (it is in the works) so you have to call in your order.  They make you work for it, just like it should be.  Happy canning and to the elixir of life (toasted tuna and cheese sandwiches – recipe below).

Toasted tuna and cheese sandwiches from my childhood (no parental involvement required).

You will need:

  • 1 small jar of grandma’s tuna, drained or one can from Merino’s
  • scoop of good mayo (like Hellman’s or Duke’s)
  • diced yellow onion to taste
  • salt and pepper

Combine this mixture well and spread generously onto the bottom of a hamburger bun.  On the top inside of the bun, add a slice of cheese (back then we used Velveeta by the block).  Place both sides under a broiler until the cheese is melted and brown and the bun is toasty.  Remove and place the gooey cheese top portion on the tuna spread bottom.  Press gently together.  Serve with canned baked beans (doctored up) and chips.  Add a fresh orange cut into rings sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar for dessert.

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