With April soon coming to a close and thoughts of summer vacations on the not-too-distant horizon, we felt it was a good idea to arm you with some information on how to obtain and enjoy some great seafood when you’re out of town and can’t make it to our seafood market. If your vacation plans include staying at a beachside house or any other area near ample supplies of salt water, this guide to clamming will hopefully add some extra flavor to your getaway.
One of the great things about clamming is that it’s very easy to learn and requires little to no background experience. Once you’ve learned the few rules to this fun activities, you’ll be ready to go out and start nabbing bivalves like a pro. First things first however – some areas will require you to have a permit for clamming, so it’s very important that you read up on where you’re going and find out whether or not you’ll need a permit. Unlawful clamming convictions and fines aren’t a good way to build positive family memories.
Once you’re set in the legal sense, it’s time to prepare for your clamming adventure. You’ll only really need two tools – a good rake and a strong bucket. It’s recommended that a smaller garden rake or potato rake be used1 because this will allow you to kneel and be closer to the ground while working. If you use a regular full size rake, you’ll be continually bending over and will end up with a very sore back and some pulled mussels… that is, muscles as well. (Yeah, we know that was terrible.) Regardless of what position you’re in, it’s a great idea to get up and stretch every 5-10 minutes to keep your muscles limber and comfortable.
Depending on how far away you are from either your car or wherever you’ll be going to after your clams are harvested, you may want to be conservative in the amount that you collect. The meat of the clams may not weigh much, but the weight of the shells can gradually add up and if you have a long walk ahead of yourself, you may not want to be lugging your weight in clam shells. Another important thing to bear in mind is your style of dress. It’s recommended that you wear shorts, cutoffs, or a bathing suit unless you for some reason want to end your day with wet and muddy clothing. You’ll also be stepping into the sand/mud a bit, so you’ll want to make sure to wear either rubber boots or some old shoes to protect your feet from hazards below the surface, such as broken shells, broken glass, and barnacles which can do a number on your poor feet they aren’t protected.1
Now that we’ve gone through the preparation and safety measures, it’s time to get on to the actual clamming. The best places to go for this are shallow salt water ponds, tidal pools, and seashores during times of extremely low tides. The time of these tides should be posted at your beach of choice and if not, you can usually find them online fairly easily.2. Once you’ve picked your spot, you’ll want to get into position, take your rake, and push it downward in front of you until it is 1-2 feet beneath the surface of the mud. One of the unique things about clamming that sets it apart from other forms of hunting is that you will be relying on your sense of touch much more than on your sense of sight. Once you’ve gotten your rake deep enough, you should slowly yet firmly pull it up and in toward yourself. If you feel your rake hit anything, congratulations – you’ve probably caught your first clam! Once this has happened, you need to dig with your other hand until you find the obstruction you’ve hit and then yank your clam out of the mud and place it in your bucket. To ensure that it doesn’t freeze to death, you’ll want to make keep your bucket away from any hard cold winds that may be blowing. (Not likely to be a big problem during the summer.)
In many ways, clamming is a lot like fishing. It’s a fun activity and a great way to spend a free day whether going solo or accompanied by friends and family. It’s also like fishing in that sometimes it may take tremendous patience. Eventually, no matter how patient you are, if you’re not finding any clams in your current spot, you’ll want to move on to another nearby location.
Once you’ve caught your clams, it’s important to determine whether they are dead or alive. If the shell remains tightly shut, you have a live clam in your hand. However, if it is partially open, you’ll need to lightly tap the shell to see if the clam closes up or not. If it doesn’t the clam is dead and is best to return it to the mud or water. Not to worry though, it’s not going to go to waste. Several nearby animals looking for a snack will be more than happy to find your discarded clams. You’ll likely find some oysters and mussels when clamming as well, as they tend to appear nearer to the surface and are an easier catch. If you plan on taking them back, you’ll have to give them the same “dead or alive” test that you put your clams through before taking them home with you.2
It’s always a good thing to help sustain nature’s populations and delicate balances when we can. Fortunately, we can do this when we wrap up a clamming session. Just remember to return any displaced sand/mud that you’ve moved during the process back into place so that any undersized clams can be reburied and allowed to grow to maturity and eventually reproduce. If these little ones are left uncovered, they become fast and easy pray for seagulls and other shore birds who are watching and standing at the ready.2
Okay, so now you’ve prepared for clamming, done your clamming, and restored the beach. What could possibly be next? Why eating of course! Before you eat your clams, you’ll want to once again look through all of your catch and make sure that everybody is still alive. After this, you should place your clams in some water and allow them to soak for about 20 minutes, and then run them and the liquid through a strainer. This will aid in removing any remaining sand and other debris that may be trapped in or on the clams. After cleaning, you can store your clams in a cool, damp refrigerator, but for no more than 2 weeks at the very most before eating. Also, NEVER store your clams in water while in the refrigerator. A wrapping of moist paper towels will more than do the trick. When you’re ready to eat your clams, the sky is the limit. You can either steam them for a classic New England treat or shuck and chop your clams for inclusion in a hearty chowder or clam sauce.
We hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from our quick guide to clamming, but before we wrap it up, we’d like to give you a few post-consumption hints about how to get the most out of the remaining clam shells. One method is to break them up, bring them home, and scatter them throughout your garden. The extra calcium will yield fertility and in most cases, a more successful garden on the whole. If you really want to give back and complete the circle of life, you can bring the clam shells back to where you first caught them and return them to their muddy/watery homes. Baby oysters needs to be able to attach to existing shells in order to survive, so you’ll be doing them a huge favor.
That’s about it for today’s clamming class. Happy trails and happy clamming to all!
1. Author Unvailable
Clamming Tips: A Guide for Harvesting Your Own Shellfish
Yahoo.com, October 25, 2006
2. Bowgen, Roger
Greenwich CT Shellfish Commission