Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Razor Sharp Clam Memories

My job was to stomp the beach
When I was growing up my grandparents had a beach house in Seaview, Washington on the Long Beach Peninsula.  That was where I learned to eat razor clams.  I can’t remember a time before razor clams were an important part of my life.  Fried or in fritters, they were a special part of going to The Cow Palace as my grandmother named their house. Clamming was an important enough activity with our family that my father painted razor clams on the front window shutters.  They are still there fifty-five years later.

My father was an excellent clam digger.  I loved it when I knew that we were going to go clam digging because it meant that most probably he’d wake me in the middle of the night to go along.  Back in those days we called my grandfather’s collection of clam shovels clam guns.  That was before the advent of the cylinder shaped clam guns that eventually came to be made of PVC pipe.  Daddy loaded the shovels, buckets, and kerosene lanterns into the trunk of our old Ford and off we’d go. 

Sometimes we drove out the Seaview approach onto the beach and headed north in search of good beds.  Sometimes he thought that Oysterville had the better beds and we’d work our ways south on the beach.

My job was to stomp the beach for the little telltale clam holes and to rinse the clams and count them when we thought we had a limit.  Limits were much higher in those days, I think around 30 and licenses were not required.  There didn’t seem to be red tide, at least not that I ever remember hearing about and no one ever got sick on the clams we dug.

When we got back my mother would stand at the old farm house sink and clean the clams.  It was back breaking work.  In the ‘60s Daddy heard that if you dunked the clams into boiling water for just a second or two and then plunged them into cold water the shells would come way from the clams with little to no loss of flesh.  He built a wire basket for this operation and it worked well.

Sometimes my mother fried the clams.  Other times she got out Grandma’s meat grinder and ground the clams for fritters.  When her arm got tired I’d stand and turn the crank.  I loved the fritters, but I’m not as big a fan of dough as I once was and don’t think I’d like them that way as well as I do fried.

My father liked to tell the story of the time he and his best friend Smitty went out clam digging.  It was dark and the clams were plentiful.  They’d lost count, but figured it was dark, that they had their limits and were heading back to the car when a voice came out of the darkness, “How’s the clamming this morning, fellas?”  A Fish and Wildlife man turned on his flashlight and had them dump out their clams to be counted.  To their utter amazement they had exactly the right amount for two limits and thus were spared any fines.

When I brought my children back from California we moved onto the Long Beach Peninsula.  My friend Christopher offered to take the older boys clam digging and since he’d grown up on the beach—literally—I thought there was no one better to teach them.  The first clam season after we moved there we piled into my old Buick station wagon and the boys got their first taste of clam digging.  Unfortunately, the mist rolled in and we got soaked, but the boys proved to be good diggers.  “Thanks for the experience, Mom,” Josh told me a little sarcastically as we slogged back to the car.

Now my friend Christopher has been many things in his life, but he is as flawless clam fryer as he is a clam digger, so while the children shed wet coats and shoes to dry in front of his wood stove we cleaned the clams and Christopher cooked them.  Hmm, hmm, hmm.  Well, the boys didn’t think so.  For the duration of our life on the Peninsula they would dig for me, but not consume which actually worked out pretty well as far as I was concerned.

Nowadays you need a license to dig and it’s only good for those days you pay for, not for an entire season. Dave and I haven’t been clamming in a few years and clamming is open this weekend.  Unfortunately we won’t be on the beach, but I can smell the clams frying in butter and wish all the diggers good luck. I know for a fact that Christopher digs whenever he wants a clam and I don’t think he’s ever been caught or gotten sick.  Considering that he gave his youth and sanity in Vietnam I hope he keeps right on digging.


Jimh. said...

I think he's earned that right. Vietnam was a different kind of war and broke men in a different way than before.

Janice said...

I also have fond clamming memories, but we didn't cook many razors, just ground them up for chowder. When my boys were young we enjoyed clamming in the Newport area. It involved their naked feet sinking in the sand and feeling the clams with their toes. Everyone ended up with freezing feet but we always got a speedy limit. Last time we went to the beach Doug was graduating from high school....kind of the end to all those vacations.

Jamie said...

Digging Razor clams has been a family tradition since our Grand Parents retired to Ocean Park. At least that's where my memories begin. Grandpa corrected me when I called the tube a "Gun", and let me know that was reserved for the narrow shovel. Their cottage had a shed, just for game dressing, the kitchen stove was wood fired, and the blessings went on so long one time, I recall grandpa admonishing grandma to "bless the clams, you've mentioned everything else". Easter became synonymous with clam digging, chowder and breaded clams. I haven't tired of it, try to indoctrinate those not inoculated against cold wet mornings at the beach, and always look forward to the next time, walking the beach, watching those experiencing it for their first or hundredth time. Always fun.