Random acts of shellfishness

It was clams that started all this.

When Kevin and I first moved here, in spring of 2008, we thought it might be fun to try clamming, and after one or two ignominious failures (which you can read about in all their ignominious details in my favorite local publication, Edible Cape Cod), we managed to go out one day and dig up our dinner. It was astonishing to me that I could go out in the water at low tide, dig through the sand with a rake, and unearth something good to eat.

By the beginning of 2009, I’d become so taken with the idea of first-hand food that I started trying to eat at least one food every day that we’d hunted, gathered, fished, or grown, and I launched Starving to chronicle the effort.

Kevin and I still call that our Winter of Shellfish. We didn’t yet have chickens or hoophouse, and we didn’t go into that winter with stores of frozen fish, turkey, and tomatoes. We had clams. And oysters. And clams again. And again.

Since then, we’ve branched out, and lately I’ve done almost none of the kind of clamming that got me into this in the first place. We’ve eaten plenty of clams, but we’ve gotten them off our oyster grant, which has a patch left over from a clam-farming effort.

For the past month, though, we haven’t had to go out to the grant much, so, if I wanted clams I had to get them the old-fashioned way.

And I did want clams. Our friend Amanda is stopping by on her way to Ireland, and that’s a visit with white clam sauce written all over it.

This morning, it was nineteen degrees, with a stiff breeze out of the north. Low tide was at 9:00, so I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for it to warm up. I layered up, got my waders and clamming license, and headed out to the beach at the end of Bay Street, in Osterville.

It was cold enough to keep the crowds away, and I was the only one out there. I walked up the beach to where I knew clams used to be, and waded in. After trying three or four spots, I found them.

Clamming is hard work; it’s like digging. You work your rake deep into the sand, and then pull it through, hoping to feel the smooth shell of a clam. When you find one, you work the tines behind and under it, and pull it up. After about ten minutes of this, I was almost completely warm – the fingertips of my right hand were the only hold-outs. After thirty minutes, I had a peck of clams.

Since we started all this, I’ve wondered how long it would take for it to get stale. There’s no question that novelty is part of the appeal of everything we do, and if it’s most of the appeal … well, we should start apartment hunting in New York pretty soon.

But being out by myself, knee deep in North Bay, raking dinner up out of the sand, didn’t feel stale at all. It felt fresh and constructive, and I still marvel that there are so many things to eat in the water. It’s not quite the same as that very first clam, but it’s still got a long way to go before it gets to stale. Even as the novelty has begun to wear off, the satisfaction has been abiding, and satisfaction and clam sauce go a long way

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  1. YEA clams!!! Yeah clam sauce!!! (and lets be fair, I would have eaten the tasteless squash if you’d served it, I’m there to see you and Kevin and Red, not worry about dinner).

    But I would have made a LOT of jokes about it:) Clam sauce is snark proof.

  2. That sounds like so much fun! Well except the 19 degrees. Being from the desert in California, I’m not sure I have even seen 19 degrees before! I start turning to ice just thinking about it!

    I think I need to add clam hunting to my list of things to do someday.

  3. While I live far from the ocean and have never been claming, I think the novelty/satisfaction issue still holds true. I still marvel every time a new calf is born on our place. I’m still amazed that seeds I plant become plants and produce edible vegetables. I’m still impressed with the changing of the seasons, cloud formations, and sunrises/sunsets. Although the novelty may be gone, to say that I am satisfied with my lifestyle is an understatement!

    • Janie – Me too. I had to read Tamar’s post a second time, because my first reading was marred by obsessive thoughts of a clam roll. You know, buttered and grilled white hot dog roll overfilled with fried clams, and topped with tartar sauce….sorry, what were you saying?

  4. I read this and thought, now that I live by the sea (I have finally made the move Tamar), next low tide, I am going digging. Then I noticed all the references to ‘white’ clam sauce (I have only ever steamed them in white wine and served as is) so I followed your links all the way back to 2009; vermouth, cream, clams…

    All together in the voice of Homer Simpson: ‘Aaargh! Clams! Clams in white sauuuuuuce…’

    I’m going to try this. If I do find clams then it’ll be on the menu!

  5. I grew up on Cape Cod, but lowly Bourne rather than prestigious Provincetown. My older sister clams with her hands. You have to be fast to do it that way, because the clams dive deep to get away from you. I never mastered the art, but she catches clams every time. That will always be a strong visual memory of my childhood: my sister barefoot in the damp sand, bent over at the waist, her hands moving so fast they blur, until a clam hits the sand behind her.

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