Surf Clam Bonanza
March 10, 2016
March 10 was a warm rainy day. Crane’s Castle loomed out of gossamer wisps of mist. I expected to hear the chirr of bagpipes as the Scottish guards marched through the dark foggy dunes.
The day before it had been a record breaking 72 degrees, the year before there had been 5 feet of snow on the ground and a solid wall of icebergs stacked against the shore. Climate change and sea level rise were like Donald Trump; we knew he was coming, we didn’t do anything to stop him, and now it was too late.
But at least sea level rise provided some compensation. It had caused so much sand to erode off the south end of Plum Island that the Ipswich River was pushing up against Crane’s Beach. Now during high course tides strong new currents and waves would kick surf clams out of the sand and leave long windrows of them stranded on the beach.
The shellfish warden sent out the word that he wouldn’t arrest anyone who collected the clams without a license. It was an old-fashioned shellfish bonanza, who wanted all that food to go to waste?
Surf clams are large 5-inch long mollusks that used to be used as kitschy ashtrays and are still used to make quahog chowder without quahogs, and steamed clams without stomachs. Truth in advertising has never been prerequisite in the world of seafood marketing.
It took a bit of a leap of faith to the clams. It looked like the clams were already dead or thinking pretty seriously about the proposition. They were gaped open but if you squeezed them slightly their own muscles would take over and slowly close their shells.
That was enough for me. I eagerly collected my bushel of clams figuring that at least some were still good. But when I returned home I discovered that they all responded to cold water so I had three weeks worth of clam chowder and several days worth of clam cakes. All I had to do was shuck them.
It was not a difficult task. The clams nestled into the palm of your hand and opened easily. The only thing that slowed me down were the disturbing gurgles and gushing’s and my own anatomy lessons.
But I dug out the two large abductor muscles, snipped off the fleshy feet and cut away the mantles that lay along the leading edge of the shell. It is impossible to remove the sand from the softer organs and the stomach could be toxic, so I followed the Pilgrims’ example and buried the entrails where I planned to plant my corn a few months later.
The interlude had taught me a lesson. If you make a point of living with the ocean and visiting her every day she will provide you with an unending cornucopia of unexpected presents, a blitz of bluefish in the fall, stranding’s of sea scallops in the winter. But if you try to fight the ocean she will visit you with a woeful tally of unfortunate surprises.