Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clam good time

Digging through the sand in P.E.I. is messy, but fun

  • Print

POINT PRIM, P.E.I -- Gilbert Gillis is showing us the tools we'll use to "hunt" clams.

Hunt? They don't have much of a chance buried in the sand. With the tide out, where are they going to go? More like dig down and pick them out.

IF YOU GO

-- Happy Clammers in Point Prim is a 45-minute drive southeast of Charlottetown. The adventure lasts 2 1/2 to 3 hours: one hour clamming, a short clam show-and-tell and the rest eating.

-- Price: $100 plus HST per person for two or three guests; $85 plus HST for between four and 12; $25 plus HST for children under eight; children under five are free.

-- Times: The season runs from about May 5 to Sept. 5. In May and June, it is offered Monday to Saturday, in July and August, Monday to Friday. Start times depend on low tide which means it could be anytime between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

-- Bring water shoes, old sneakers or flip-flops.

So, I ask Gilbert jokingly: "Why don't we use guns?"

He surprises me with his reply. "We do." The guns are actually hollow, plastic tubes with handles that we'll push into the sand, then pull up with a clump of wet sand filled (we hope) with clams. As well as the guns, we'll be using a clam hack fashioned from a corn silage rake.

By now, I'm getting the idea this is work. I'm paying to dig up my dinner.

(Confession time: This is not my idea. This clamming thing isn't on my bucket list, but my wife, Barb, wants a true island adventure. She's the one who contacted Gilbert and his wife, Goldie, operators of Happy Clammers. Gilbert, a former lobster fisher, is now an oyster fisher and clammer host.)

So, with the tide out, we don our big boots and head off in Gilbert's truck to the banks of the Pinette River in search of our dinner.

I love clams, but until now, they have simply passed quickly from a bowl of clam chowder into my mouth. Tiny little things mixed in with diced potatoes, onions, celery and bacon bits. Hardly noticeable, really.

That image is about to change.

These bi-valve molluscs move with the tide, but give themselves away by tiny holes in the sand and bubbling water when they are feeding. Look for the hole, push the gun into the ground, wiggle it a bit, cover the air hole on top, and pull up a clump of muddy sand.

Bingo! One is hidden in the clump of mud and others are exposed in the hole left by the gun.

These clams are big, much bigger than I had expected. And fat.

The first one I see has its trunk-like neck fully extended as it feeds on plankton and expels the excess water. It actually spits out the water and if you happen to be in the wrong position, you can get it in the face. Hence, one of several names for these soft-shelled clams is squirters. I don't think it's smiling as I reach into the hole to pick it out.

"Oh, that's a meaty one," Gilbert says.

"How do you know?" I ask.

He shows me the meat hanging out around the edges of its shell.

We keep digging. This is messy work. Muddy boots, dirty hands, and labour that is moderately strenuous, like turning over soil in a garden. We toss smaller clams back into the hole.

Once we have collected enough clams for dinner -- about 25 that have to be more than 50 mm in length -- we wash them off in a nearby tidal pool and head back home for what I expect will be the best part of the adventure, a meal of steamed clams, clam chowder, biscuits, apple pie and rhubarb muffins.

Back at the house, Goldie, who has been busy making clam chowder, takes over with an explanation of the five varieties of clams found on the island. Gilbert steams the clams we've "hunted."

This variety of clam goes by five different names: soft shell; steamers; longnecks; butter; or squirters.

Once steamed, the water from the clams is placed in bowls. For a shocking moment, I think we're supposed to drink this broth, but it's simply used to remove any excess sand from the clams before eating.

And there is method to getting them out of their shells. Using our thumbs, we push back a rough-skinned outer layer of the neck before removing the clam from the shell. Dip it in the broth. Dip it in a butter and garlic melt. Down the hatch.

It takes a few before I'm keen enough to eat all of it, including the chewy neck section, but they are delicious. Like a mussel, but sweeter.

We follow this with a bowl of Goldie's clam chowder made from a larger clam that lives in sandbars, appropriately named bar or sand clams. She says they have a sweeter flavour and yield more meat.

The Gillis' say most clammers like the eating part over the digging. Kids, naturally, love the digging."It's hard to get them to stop," says Goldie, who provides them with their own pail and shovel.

Since they began offering clam digging five years ago, the business has grown from 45 visitors the first year to 422 last year.

So, filled with clams, chowder, biscuits and pie (no room for the rhubarb muffins until later), the final chapter of our adventure is digging into my pocket to shell out the rest of the money I owe -- 100 clams (pun fully intended).

 

Don Gibb is a freelance writer in Oakville, Ontario.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 E3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Preview: RMTC's Armstrong's War

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your favourite Halloween treat to hand out?

View Results

Ads by Google