Pacific Razor Clamming
How often does one get to do something that one has not done for 51 years? Almost everyone who has lived long in or grown up in the Pacific Northwest has memories of going Razor clamming on the coast. It was, when I was growing up, a yearly family ritual. And it was so because it was such a wonderful combination of the ultimate easter egg hunt, mud wrestling, friendly competition, and unique, delicious, non-preservable eating.
I had last dug razor clams when I was 12 years old. Lots of reasons for that, including years of depleted, over-dug clam beds. But this year there were reports of a tremendous abundance of clams, not seen in decades on the beach from Seaside to the South Jetty of the Columbia River. The "set" of clams was very dense, and quite high up in the tide line. The digging, it was promised, was going to be "just like the old days".
The enticement was too much. We made plans with my wife's parents and cousins coinciding with a series of minus tides late in April. The average age SINCE their last clam dig in the party was 45 years, from my high of 51 years to 35 years for others. Would we even remember how to do it?
Digging razor (sometimes called "racer") clams is never easy, and is progressively harder as the average depth of the lurking clams becomes deeper. First you find the "show", the dimple in the smooth sand indicating a lurking clam. One then either digs (on the ocean side) with a clam shovel or probes with a tubular "gun". A couple of quick strokes with the shovel, watching for signs of a spout at the bottom of the hole as the alerted clam starts digging deeper, then quickly dropping to one's knees and scooping deeper with sand flinging strokes. You only have about ten seconds before the water-saturated sand begins collapsing around ones hand and further digging and probing becomes impossible. There is a limited window of time in whiich to reach the tip of the clam, grab the top of the siphon or shell with cold, sand encased fingers, and extract with a slow, rocking pull. Get there fast and you get the clam. You might find the tip of the (receeding) clam but it is too late, too deep, too much syrupy sand collapsing into the hole. You can't get a hold strong enough to stop and extract the clam. Or you miss it altogether.
And sometimes the clams are shallow and easy.
But it is the ultimate down and dirty, face-in-the-mud, Easter egg hunt. It is simply a hoot. And when it is all over, there is no other way in the world to cook razor clams than egged, floured and breaded, deep fried.