Clam Digging on PEI

I have an admission to make. Despite being born and raised in the Maritimes, with fishermen on both sides of my family, I do not like shellfish. While my crustacean-loving friends and family happily shuck, crack and slurp their way through heaping bowls of mussels, platters of lobsters and trays of oysters, I scrunch up my nose, clamp my mouth shut and vigourously shake my head ‘no.’ If I had a Maritimer membership badge, it’d be revoked.

But I am nothing if not a good hostess, so when we had visitors recently whose only request was to go clam digging, I happily obliged. They weren’t asking me to eat the clams, after all.

Having never been clam digging myself, I spent the week researching what we’d need, where to go and what the regulations are. We would be digging soft shell clams, locally referred to as piss clams, and I learned there is a daily catch limit of 300 per person for this type of clam with a minimum size of 50mm, or about two inches.

My fiance, a legitimate Islander, said he knew of a great spot to dig in Maximeville, an area found along the North Cape Coastal Drive in the Evangeline Region.

We arrived at the dig site to find the tide on its way out, but not quite far enough for our liking. We returned an hour later to perfect conditions. Each inch the water receded had revealed another patch of rich clay-like sand that housed the clams we were after.

Clam Digging 2 CropWe descended upon the sand with our humble tools – buckets, spades, pitchforks and a few children’s beach toys – certain we’d have the buckets filled to the brim with clams in no time. The pitchforks and spades were used to turn over the sand, revealing what was living underneath. We then used the small plastic “tools” to dig through the fresh wet sand we had just uncovered to find any hidden clams.

We had been expecting to find dozens of large piss clams each time we turned over the sand, but instead we found just a few clams, so we did what any group of good friends would do and made a competition out of it. We paired up, spread out along the stretch of sand and worked quietly and quickly.

Now was not the time for random digging, not when bragging rights were at stake. It was time to dig smarter, not harder, by looking for the telltale sign of air holes in the sand. We were a bit more successful with this approach, but not much. The daily catch limit suddenly became a far-off lofty goal we’d never reach, not even between eight of us.

We combined the fruits of our foraging to make it appear like a more substantial haul. We rinsed the clams as best we could with ocean water before covering them with more ocean water and returning to the cottage to prepare our feast.

Clam Digging 1 cropThough people generally soak the clams for several hours or even overnight to wash out as much sand as possible, we were content to leave them for only an hour or so before cooking them. In the meantime, we gathered some ingredients to add to the stockpot to flavour the broth the clams would cook in. Garlic and onions, as well as some white wine and a few cups of the ocean water. The clams were carefully spooned out of the bucket to leave behind as much gritty sand as possible. In what seemed like no time at all, the clams were ready to eat.

While the others eagerly gathered around the bowl of clams, I stubbornly maintained my distance and scrunched my nose. But as I watched them all enjoy the clams we had dug and cooked ourselves, with the hot July sun setting behind their sunburnt faces as we sat on the deck, I couldn’t help but asking to try one.

Clam Digging 4 cropOne clam wasn’t enough to make me change my opinion on shellfish, but that day spent with friends digging clams on the mudflats of the Northumberland Strait is a memory I’ll savour for a long time to come.