At last, the answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions:
Do you need a carry permit for your clam gun from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Razor Clams?
How does a razor clam turn around at the bottom of its hole in order to point its digger foot toward the surface?
Since Washington’s coastal beaches form the world’s best razor clam habitat, why can’t you find the clams at a retail outlet?
Why hasn’t someone built a razor clam harvester, something like a gold dredge?
Does the term “clam gun” refer to a special, narrow-bladed shovel or to a tubular device used to hand-harvest razor clams? Or both?
Does the name “razor clam” refer to the critter’s razor-sharp shell edge or to its resemblance to the often-amber, straight-razor case of a past era?
How do you keep sand out of the car?
The answers now can be found in a delightful new book from the University of Washington Press, written with verve, humor and well-researched fact by Seattle resident David Berger. The book should become a go-to reference for razor clam enthusiasts, expert or casual, and it informs painlessly.
The publication is titled “Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest” and is a lively history and celebration of the Pacific razor clam. Berger shares his love affair with the gold-colored “Siliqua patula” (he says, “glossy, tapered and as elegant as a 1920s cigarette case”) and gets into the sandy lowdown of how to dig, clean and cook them using his favorite recipes.
In the course of his investigation, Berger brings to light the long history of razor clamming as a subsistence, commercial and recreational activity, and shows the ways it has helped shape both the identity and the psyche of the Pacific Northwest.
Greg Johnston, the popular and longtime outdoor columnist for the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote about the book, “Berger provides information I didn’t know, and I’ve been digging razor clams for fifty years.”
Want world-class recipes? Berger has recipes.
For chowder, of course, including “Lee’s Razor Clam Chowder” from Lee Marriott, director of the Museum of the North Beach in Moclips. The savory serving incorporates 16 different ingredients.
Another chowder comes from chef Michael Lalewicz of the Depot Restaurant in Long Beach. The chef says, “There are two recipes the restaurant can never take off the menu, and this chowder is one.”
There’s even a “more healthy” version from Dan Ayres, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s coastal shellfish manager, called “Dan’s Low Fat Clam Chowder.”
Other recipes include an interesting vintage chowder from the 1920s, found on a can that held minced razor clams. It includes clams and potatoes, but no milk or cream — a type today called Rhode Island style, according to the book.
And because this is the whole reason for digging clams: recipes for basic sauteed razor clams, Karen’s fry mix, fritters, sauteed with capers, Brock’s razor clams with black bean sauce, and more.
Bet you didn’t know that most Washington razor clams harvested commercially are sold as crab bait — quick-frozen in 20-pound containers.
Bet you didn’t know that True Temper made top-grade razor clam shovels for 50 years, stopping in the 1980s when commercial clam canning disappeared. The old shovels are treasured tools, heavy duty, forged steel, good handle length, good blade angle.
Berger says a man named James Batstone, a coastal resident, came up with the first clam shovel design, but never made much money from it. The term “clam gun” was in use, he says, long before the tube was introduced and became popular in the 1960s. The shovel was first, but the tube caught up and is now the “clam gun,” Berger says. But being a shovel user, he says of the tube, “The hoisting motion has all the pleasure of lifting a stump.”
Bet you didn’t know that in a banner year, Quinault commercial diggers can harvest 800,000 pounds of razor clams, according to the book, and that the tribe has attempted to establish a retail market without much success.
Did you know that Washington considers the beaches state highways, with a 25-mph speed limit?
Did you know that when you don’t have time to immediately clean a 15-clam limit you can put a rubber band around each clam, keeping the shell from opening and thus keeping the clam alive and fresh longer?
This is just a taste of the good stuff Berger brings to the table. I don’t review many books, but I can recommend this one highly. If you’ve ever spent a couple of hours in the evening with a shovel in one hand and a gas lantern in the other, wet and sandy, shivering in the wind coming in hard and cold from Japan, you need to read this book.