Fae Kontje-Gibbs


Wild Thing: Quahaugs

(Mercenaria mercenaria)

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but once upon a time it burrowed beneath the surface of brackish ponds. Quahaugs – the general term for hard-shell clams, ranging in size from littlenecks to cherrystones and chowders – were long ago used as currency and status symbols by the Wampanoags. Times have changed. Today, we drop a lot of dollars on quahaugs in the form of chowder, wampum earrings, and Gio’s fried clams. Thankfully, the purple-and-white-shelled bivalves are still plentiful on the Island, and can be easily retrieved for the price of a shellfish permit. Wade into the water at low tide and root around two inches beneath the sandy bottom with a clam rake. If you’re in the right area, you’ll hit upon a clam or two in short order – you can practically bank on it.

Where to look: Katama Bay, Menemsha Pond, Nashaquitsa Pond, Tashmoo, the Lagoon – basically, any coastal pond on the Island, all the better if the town has seeded the area. (Call your town’s shellfish constable to find the best locations.) Unopened clams will stay fresh for several weeks in the refrigerator; they can also be frozen in their shells.

How to use: Eat littlenecks raw; add them to sauces, soups, pasta, and paella; or broil them with breadcrumbs and bacon for a classic clams casino. Chowders and cherrystones have tougher meat and are best minced and added to chowder or clam cakes.

You may bury him deep in mud and muck/ Or carry him ’round to bring you luck/ Or use him for a hockey puck/ It’s all the same to the clam.
                                 – Shel Silverstein