Digging Holes For Fun and Food
For simple fun there's nothing quite like digging a hole. Said no one ever.
Digging for clams, however -- now there's a ticket to the fun parade! And for clam digging, nothing quite beats razor clams out on the Pacific coastline. Razor clams enjoy sandy beaches and inhabit tidal zones only revealed by the lowest tides, so razor clam digs are scheduled around the tide table. Last weekend had a trio of low tides out on the Washington coast, corresponding with an open season on razor clams, so I packed up the van, the dog, and my mildly skeptical teenaged daughter and bolted for the coast.
The Washington coast isn't exactly a tourist mecca during the winter months. During the cold, wet, windy, grey winter months. Razor clam digs are the exception. Thousands of people will hit the beach for a razor clam opening, hoping to dig their limit of these large, flavorful shellfish. And sometimes the weather cooperates. When we pulled up to Roosevelt Beach just south of Moclips on Friday afternoon, we were rewarded with a rare 60 degree day, with lots of sun and only a light breeze.
The tide was just a few minutes from its lowest point, so we hustled out to the water line and started looking for "shows" -- visible indicators on the surface of the sand of clams hunkered down below. It didn't take us long to find some and deploy our "clam gun" to good effect. A clam gun is just a tube, made with steel, aluminum, or plastic, that is pushed down into the beach and then, using suction, pulls up a cylinder of sand. When pushed down over the "show" of a razor clam that cylinder of sand often contains the beast itself.
Pulling up a razor clam produces a reliable, giddy reaction from even the most seasoned diggers (or the most skeptical of teenaged daughters). As soon as the first one is in hand, the hunt is on for the next.
It took my daughter and I about 30 minutes to dig 30 clams -- our daily limit of 15 clams each. Which is to say that we dug no fewer than 30 holes in the sand in 30 minutes. If I proposed the digging of holes in the beach as a fun way to spend some time together, I'm pretty sure I'd get evicted out of the "fun ways to spend time together" brainstorming session. But somehow, when clams are involved, you can't dig holes fast enough. I'm always amazed how putting a little hunter-gatherer activity into an otherwise mundane routine is transformative.
Our limits filled for the day, we headed for our campsite up at Pacific Beach State Park a few miles north. I now had 30 clams to clean, and dinner to make, which compared to the fun of digging holes actually did seem like a bit of drudgery.
The dog was mildly interested in the clam cleaning setup, or maybe just interested in seeing that empty food bowl filled up. To process the clams I blanched them in hot water very briefly, which opened up their shells, then doused in ice water to make sure they didn't cook at all. After that came a tedious but necessary hour of cleaning razor clams -- lots of guidelines available for this online, so consult your local youtubes for details if you're interested.
Dinner was a teriyaki chicken ramen. A nice bowl of scratch ramen is actually pretty fast and easy in camp with enough preparation at home. All the ingredients were staged in the cooler: teriyaki chicken thighs, some soft-cooked eggs, a couple of large mason jars of homemade broth, and green onions and togarashi for topings. Bring the broth to a boil, add noodles (for this application I use packaged yakisoba noodles, which are already cooked and really just need to be heated up in the broth), pour out into a bowl and arrange the toppings. With the 60 degree afternoon giving way to cooler night-time temps a big bowl of ramen really hit the spot.
With dinner out of the way it was time to make use of some of the clams. I diced up the firm siphon meat from about 10 clams or so to make up a razor clam ceviche. The recipe comes from Northwest forager Langdon Cook, who has a lot of great information about PNW foraging in his books and his blog. I kicked my version up a notch with the addition of a little habanero pepper alongside the jalapeno called for in the recipe. Raw razor clam, marinated in lime juice, rice vinegar and mirin, mixed with some onions, hot peppers, and cilantro. It was completely delicious.
The next day the weather was more typical of the season: colder, greyer, with the threat of rain. We breakfasted on oatmeal and hot coffee, then made the most of the ocean breeze with a big wing kite. Somehow my daughter managed to have her nail polish accessorized with the enameled kettle and cups in our cookware.
Gabe, who makes a frequent appearance in these little stories of mine, joined us for a second day of digging holes in the sand for fun and food. As the tide receded that afternoon we headed back out to the beach.
The clams didn't come as easily the second day, but we still had a good time at the beach. I don't think I would have chosen a Washington coast beach outing in the middle of March without the inducement of razor clams. But enjoying the time outside, relaxing, cooking, eating, and playing together with my daughter makes me glad that we did. The razor clams are delicious, and I'm glad that we harvested them, but maybe they were just an excuse to get out near the water, engage the hunter-gatherer reflexes, and spend some quality time with friends and family. Clams or no clams, if digging holes means getting to do all of those things then it seems like a pretty sure-fire way to have fun to me.
There are more razor clam digs scheduled on the Washington coast in April. It's an easy activity that's truly fun for the whole family. Check out the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website for licensing requirements (they are cheap!), digging instructions (it's easy!) and equipment recommendations (they are minimal!), as well as a schedule and locations for upcoming digs. Then get ready for this fun conversation with your family and friends:
"Hey -- let's go dig some holes this weekend!"