A low-impact activity that is healthy and can get seniors some exercise out in the fresh salt air is hard shell clamming. And you can prepare some very good meals with the fruits of your labors.
First, acquire a shellfish permit from the Town Clerk’s office. The cost is 10 bucks and is valid from April of one year to April the next. It’s laminated in plastic to protect it while in the water. You must have it with you while clamming; be prepared to show it to authorities. To get a permit, it’s necessary to be a taxpayer, resident or a renter.
We have some of the cleanest waters surrounding this Island so the risk of contamination is almost non-existent. The only time to be cautious is after big storms when excessive rain runoff can bring animal feces into the water. The DEC will close areas temporarily when this occurs. This is another good reason to clean up after your dogs when they’re running along the beach.
So how does the recreational clammer prepare? Go out at low tide and prepare to get wet. A plastic bag, large enough to hold a dozen or so clams, should be tied around your waist. You can wear old sneakers and use a clam rake and a basket supported by an inner tube or you can go in barefoot and dig with your hands.
Anyone who’s been clamming for some time has “favorite spots,” which presumably no one else knows about. Finding a good spot has some guidelines: the bottom should be sandy, not muddy and not too rocky.
If the clams are in too much mud they must be scrubbed carefully and soaked in water and cornmeal overnight. Rocky bottoms are not that good either. I always feel like I am getting a clam that turns out to be a similar-sized stone. So run your bare feet along the sandy bottom and feel for a clam, reach down and place it in the bag.
There are three varieties that one might encounter: Littlenecks are the smallest — at least one inch across the hinge — the medium cherrystones and the large chowders. Littlenecks are best eaten on the half shell while cherrystones are good for stuffing and chowders are self-explanatory.
We’re surrounded by some 50 town landings on this Island — places for the public to access the water — and numerous beaches.
On the next warm day, take to the water, get some clams and prepare them for dinner that night as a chilled or baked appetizer or as a sauce poured over your favorite pasta. More on recipes at another time.