Fresh clams: From the bay to your table

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on May 07, 2014 - 12:47 PM

Photo: Jessie West, left, the youngest member of a clam business family, holds a bag of clams caught by his father, Russell West, who has been in the business for 28 years. His grandfather, Ernest West, has been harvesting clams for approximately 70 years. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Jessie West, left, the youngest member of a clam business family, holds a bag of clams caught by his father, Russell West, who has been in the business for 28 years. His grandfather, Ernest West, has been harvesting clams for approximately 70 years. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Enjoyed as a food source since prehistoric times, there are over 2,000 varieties of clams, but only two types: hard-shell and soft-shell. It’s the hard-shell clams, also known as quahogs and round clams, we so often have the opportunity to purchase when Ernest West’s truck is parked on Main Street in Gloucester Court House and Russell West’s truck is parked on Main Street in Mathews Court House. Each has a sign reading “Fresh Clams For Sale.”

This Mathews County family business has been harvesting clams for more than 70 years, beginning when Ernest West was a young man.

Hard-shell clams are found along the coast from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Texas. They occur mainly in bays and estuaries along the coast. The Wests harvest the majority of their clams in the Chesapeake and Mobjack bays.

The clams live buried only about 1-2 inches below the bay’s bottom, and can live over 40 years.

Whether shucked or unshucked, clams are highly perishable and should be eaten or cooked as soon as possible. If clams are truly fresh, they will last a few days under refrigeration in a porous bag. They should never be sealed in plastic or submerged in water as they will die from lack of oxygen. Discard any fresh live clam with shells that are broken or open, or those that do not close when tapped.