Clam-digging in Ninilchik

I dug clams! It was a first for me. In the past, I’ve watched other people clean razor clams (back in high school my parents chopped up a sink full of them and the clams kept moving even though they’d been on ice for hours and even though they’d been cut into pieces — it was a horror show for me at that age) and a few years ago I had to clean a big bucket of razor clams my husband dug and then left with me to deal with because he had to work the next day (I did alot of squealing when the clams clenched up as I was cleaning and chopping them but I soldiered through and got the job done). But I’ve never dug them myself and so when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game did one of their Becoming an Outdoorswoman workshops and it was a Family Clam Digging thing, I signed us up.

I’ve never had much interest in digging clams because everyone I’ve talked to about their clam-digging forays says that it was a ton of hard work and they didn’t get many clams to show for all their effort. It just didn’t seem worth it to me to trek all the way to the Kenai and deal with the crowds. But now that I’ve done it with success, I think maybe they were just trying to keep me away from their clams… and I can respect that because I’m awfully possessive of my secret berry-picking patches.

Here’s a shot of Ninilchik. I love that church up on the hill:

The last time we visited the church, one of the graves in the little fenced-in graveyard had a Joy of Cooking cookbook placed on it. Someone must miss their mom or grandma’s cooking!

Our tools — we got to take home either a shovel or a clam gun. We were so smitten with the clam gun that we didn’t even try digging with a shovel:

Our clam-digging party gets to work:

I ran back to the truck to put on another pair of socks. It was pretty chilly and windy there on the beach and I was worried I didn’t bring enough warm clothing. So I pretty much just piled on every article of clothing in my suitcase and I ended up feeling like the michelin man. I needn’t have worried — once we got to work, I found out quick how much hard work it is to dig clams and I warmed up right away and I was peeling off layers one after another. And that introduces another problem: what to do with all your stuff while you’re out there, because it’s really, really muddy and there’s nowhere to set down stuff like cameras and extra clothes. The ‘sand’ is really thick and soupy because it’s full of volcanic ash. We decided that next time we’re gonna pull a big sled behind us to pile all our stuff in.

Muddy me:

Razor clams, freshly dug:

So, there’s not much skill involved in clam digging. You just need a good eye for spotting the little dimples in the sand that the clams make when they dig. The fish and game guy said we were lucky because the ‘shows’ were really good that day. Some days, they’re practically impossible to spot. And according to the stuff I read on the internet about razor clams, they just dig straight up and straight down in the same spot their entire lives, making them easy pickings. The clam guns are pretty simple contraptions — just big tubes. You plunge them into the sand with a rocking motion, then when you think you’ve dug deep enough to pull up a clam, you use your finger to plug a little hole on the handle and PULL UP. It’s sort of like capping your drink straw with your finger to get a straw-ful of beverage. At first we were puzzled that we weren’t getting any clams but then we started taking turns digging the same hole 2 or 3 times or more with our two clam guns and eventually the clam would appear. It really is a good group exercise because it’s incredibly hard work and it’s nice to take a break between digs.

The fruits of the sea were also the fruits of our labor that day:

Some might think they’re weird-looking but I think they’re really pretty and interesting:

We drove back to Anchorage that night and my mom and I cleaned all the clams and we cooked some up in this recipe. Pretty tasty! I wasn’t quite as squeamish about cleaning them this time, even when they clenched up as I was slicing them open. Probably because I was really tired from our adventure and I just wanted to get the job done and sit down and relax with a glass of white wine and a bowl full of garlicky, fresh-from-the-ocean clams.

I’m already looking forward to our next trip!


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