Clamming in Washington
Clamming in the San Juan Islands
I myself learned to clam through a combination of trial and error, education from friends, and education from those good Samaritans that would see me struggling on the beach and would pause for a few minutes to teach this ‘greenhorn’ a thing or two. Far from being unusual, this is apparently the norm. That’s unfortunate, because there is clearly a lot of people who would like to know how to clam properly but simply don’t have access to the information.
As I dug a little deeper, I also discovered how lopsided shellfish harvesting has become in the Puget Sound. Because of their ‘big game’ appeal and wider culinary acceptance, geoducks and razor clams are severely overharvested. Beaches throughout the Puget Sound are regularly closed due to overharvesting – of razor clams in particular.
I was surprised to learn this, as I’m not a big harvester of either of these species. Sure, I’ve heard about how wonderful they taste and how much meat a single clam produces, but both of these species live several feet below the surface. Due to the work involved to harvest them, I wouldn’t call digging for one those clams a ‘family fun’ adventure. I typically harvest butter clams, bent-nose clams, cockles, and horse clams. All of these species are abundant throughout the northwest, they live just a few inches below the soil and are extremely easy to harvest, and they can all typically be found on the same beach. It is these species that Native Americans ate as a staple food.
On that note, I’ve decided to write a series of articles over the next few months covering all the lessons I’ve learned about clamming. I’ll talk about how to identify them, where to find them, how to harvest them, how to cook them, how to preserve them (freezing, canning, etc), and share few fun facts to know and tell that I’ve picked up over the years.
Note: What I’ve been calling ‘angel wing clams’ are actually a Bent-Nose Macoma Clam
How to Get Clams
While I encourage people to harvest clams themselves, it’s more common to purchase canned clams from a store. I’ve decided that I’m going to compare fresh clams to a common brand of canned clams whenever possible in the recipes that I’ll present. I haven’t found that brand yet, but I’ll be perusing my local grocery store soon for candidates.
On April 27th, there was a minus two point five (-2.5) tide here in Anacortes. That is one of the lowest tides of the year. I went out and harvested a bucket of different clams and I’m presently in the process of cooking them in different dishes. I’m taking lots of photos and video. I’ll use this material to help others identify, harvest, and ultimately eat local clams.
You don’t need a record low tide to harvest clams. Any tide that goes down to near the zero level is fine for harvesting clams – particularly if you go to one of the less popular beaches. Extremely low tides are really only necessary on popular beaches, so that you can access the clams that others haven’t been able to.
Creating a Clamming Book
Based on the clam harvest I plan on raking in (pun) this summer, and the recipes that will ensue afterwards, I plan to write a series of blog posts. All these posts will be put into the Clamming subcategory of the Foraging category of posts. If you aren’t a frequent reader of the blog, be sure to check that section for future clamming posts.
Once I’ve completed several blog posts, I will compile and edit all the ‘rough drafts’ into a book. In this way, I hope to simultaneously educate people and monetize the blog. It is my hope that one day I can blog full time – covering my costs of living while sharing the beauty of the San Juan Islands, educating others about local, sustainable resources, and raising awareness of environmental dangers (like over-harvesting razor clams).