Clam Digging in Oregon

The Edwards’ home in Silverton, Oregon

It’s Christmas eve. An impenetrable mantle of hot electric blanket has forced me out of the bed I’m sharing with Dustin at his parent’s newly built house in Silverton, Oregon. We’ve gone to bed leaving twinkling lights downstairs and plans to host his mother’s family tomorrow. The beast is waiting quietly in the fridge for his turn to be roasted and the house murmurs with Dustin’s steady sleeping breath and the hum of the heater.

Earlier today as we walked the property in the brisk afternoon I couldn’t help but imagine myself holed up in their tiny, red guesthouse working hard on my first novel, a pot of tea steaming on the stove  as my fingers tap, tap, tapped the keyboard. The clouds piled high above our heads as we rode the tractor back to the house.

This place has a mix of both homey familiarity and a sense of belonging I can feel nowhere else but in Oregon, where the trees and the mud and the icy mountain streams make up the very blood in my veins. This sensation grows as we trudge through the fields in high rubber boots down to a nearby creek, stopping to admire rose hips and forgotten blackberries still red and unripened on the vine. Moss grows thickly on the little wooden bridge crossing the creek and the coffee colored water rushes under us, drowning out the sound of my thumping, longing pulse.

Netarts, Oregon

Days later, after the last guest has gone, full and happy, and toting a number of tasty leftovers including smoked turkey, Yorkshire pudding, and champagne cake, I select my breakfast from the once inviting, now daunting pile of endless Christmas cookies. Blackberry brandy and eggnog have slowed me this morning but I’ve managed to pull on some boots and a sweater. The beach awaits.

Netarts, Oregon

We arrive in Netarts on an utterly perfect day. The sun is (almost) out and the wind has taken a break. Waves crash far offshore and the salty air creeps slowly down into my lungs. The combination of cliffs and breakers and moss and trees trees trees on the Oregon coast is like nowhere else. Lucky for us the tide is low and I came prepared with a shellfish permit.

Digging for clams in Netarts, Oregon

Rake, shovel, and bucket in hand we set off skeptically down to the sand. My dad had told me about this method of simply raking the sand and scoring clams. I doubted this claim as my memories of clam  digging as a kid were just that, digging to frigging China in the freezing sand as fast as possible before the clam out-dug you.

Oregon cockles

When you dig for clams you look for little holes in the sand, step near them, and hope the clam shoots some water up at you through the hole. That’s how you know where to dig. Well, as we sloshed along the sandy bay, we saw no such holes. At all. I was beginning to look the fibber. My mother in law suggested we just start raking.

So we raked a little in the sandy tide pools and pop! up came a clam. We laughed at our luck but then pop! pop! pop! we scored more and more. Within 15 minutes we’d drawn a small crowd and the legal per day catch limit. This was definitely the easiest clam digging I’d ever done.

As you can see from the photo, these clams are quite large. They have a hard, textured shell and are technically called cockles. Before you steam, broil, slurp, or chowderize your cockles, be sure to soak them in an open container of fresh water for at least a couple hours or up to 12. Do not cover with a lid as the cockles need to be able to breath. Soaking them allows the excess sand to seep out before cooking. We skipped this step because we were so excited to eat them, but trust me, it’s vital, we were eating some crunchy clams.

The recipe below is the simple way to enjoy clams. Serve with crusty bread, pasta, or hot cooked rice.

Fresh, steamed Oregon cockles

Steamed Oregon Cockles

20 cockles (or your favorite clam)
1 cup white wine (salted water or broth is fine, too)
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 TBL butter
salt & pepper to taste

After the cockles have soaked in an uncovered container of fresh water for at least 2 and up to 12 hours, rinse and set aside.

In a large pot, add wine and and garlic over medium high heat. As soon as wine begins to boil, add cockles to the pot and cover. Be sure not to crowd the cockles. It helps to have a glass lid so you know when the shells have opened.

Steam for 3-5 minutes or until shells have opened wide. Discard any that do not open. Serve with the wine/butter mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

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3 thoughts on “Clam Digging in Oregon

  1. That’s so cool! I’ve never done that before, but now I’m dying to try it out. I’m sure there must be clam seasons, uh? I can’t just go any time, right? I’ll be sure to remember your tip about finding tiny holes. It’s kinda like crabbin’, but much easier.

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    1. It’s pretty much year round, but sometimes when they spawn or if there are weird ocean currents, it can be dangerous to eat them. Just check the fish and wildlife website before you go digging. And yes, it is much easier than crabbing!

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