I remember as a child going digging for clams with my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins by the light of the moon or sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. While the adults made the long walk down to the shore, we children skipped, cartwheeled, and zig-zagged in a not so serious race to find the first holes in the sand. They were abundant so we were all ‘winners.’ The holes indicated a clam beneath and the adults would then dig and collect it, some using a shovel, others preferring to dig by hand.
At home in Maine we harvested ‘steamers’, but razor clams are what we harvest here on the island and the method to gather them is much different. They taste nearly the same, but I think the razor clam might be more meaty.
This weekend there was a spring tide so Johnny and I took our youngest four and headed off. With bucket and spades in hand we went to the beach, an hour before the low tide. Like steamers, they live along the lower shoreline, concentrated mostly well out to sea beyond our reach, thus the expression ‘Happy as a clam at high tide.’ It is only at the low, low (spring) tide that the effort is worth it. That leaves only a couple chances a month, weather permitting.
There is also an older method of collecting them by using a wire implement that has a hooked end. The sharp end is thrust down the clam hole and is then twisted and extracted with the clam on the end. A young boy was using this wire while his father did what we and most others do–drag your foot or shovel lightly across the sand until a hole appears. Pour salt into the hole and, disliking the saline concentration, the razor clams muscles itself to the surface and ‘pops’ out of the hole.
They are filter feeders and the expulsion of water from their siphon causes holes in the sand. You might see jets of water shooting out from the sand and upwards – that’s what forms the holes. These jets, and the holes, indicate the presence of clams below.
In all, we filled not quite one bucket. With cold, wet, and muddy children, we left sooner than we would have liked, but without regrets for they really enjoyed themselves. Our oldest, who was at dancing lessons at the time, was a bit peeved to be left out. We went back the next day, but with no luck. Maybe the torrential rain the night before had something to do with it. We could barely make a line in the sand before it was washed over by rainwater running down from atop the island. or maybe the tide just wasn’t low enough anymore.
It would be mad to ignore this monthly opportunity, therefore, we go at each chance we get in hopes of stocking our freezer with this delicious gift from the sea.