WRITTEN BY KRISTA BEAUVAIS
Digging for clams is one of those fabulously fun and tasty family activities that can only be done in a few select parts of the world. Eastern Canada is one of those areas! Find out where to go and how to do it successfully.
Most tourists to Canada seem to head either to the middle (Ottawa / Toronto / Niagara Falls and surrounds) or to the West Coast (Vancouver / Lake Louise & Banff / Jasper / Whistler and surrounds). These are beautiful areas so I can certainly see why tourists flock here. Sadly though, very few tourists ever make it to the East Coast, which is called Atlantic Canada or, as the locals say, ‘The Maritimes.’
The Maritimes is well-known for its friendly locals and quaint experiences. Without fail, those who venture in this direction always say they feel warmly welcomed by the locals! Perhaps this is because we love it when people take the time to come visit.
The Maritimes has a unique culture, as it’s separated from the rest of the country by the French province of Quebec. I genuinely believe that a trip here promises to offer some truly picturesque, relaxed experiences that you’ll never forget!
One brilliant experience you must try if you visit this area is the quintessential Maritime hobby of clam digging!
Please remember that you can’t just dig for clams anywhere. If you find yourself in The Maritimes and you want to dig, check with the locals. They’ll know where it’s safe to go. If you try to dig anywhere, you might end up collecting clams that aren’t fit to eat and that could cause some serious stomach upset!
One Great Place to Dig!
I grew up in the small city of Miramichi. It was a great place to grow up and there were lots of activities that I enjoyed here as a child, including clam digging. There’s a brilliant digging spot nearby in Bay du Vin, which is a locals’ vacation spot 30 minutes away. Local families have little cottages on the water and it’s as peaceful and tranquil as you could possibly hope!
No tourists know about this little area – but it’s a great little corner of the world worth visiting if you’re in the area. (Ask any local and they’ll point you in the right direction if Google maps isn’t helpful.)
The Beach @ Bay du Vin
The beach isn’t what you’ll find in the Caribbean, but it is full of character. Sand, rock and plenty of crunchy seaweed line the beach. The water is warm and shallow for quite a distance out so it’s perfect for digging clams – and for the safety of little ones. On the day we went in August 2012, a lone little boat was anchored and drifted a short distance off shore in the shallows.
The sand beneath this shallow water would soon be ours for the digging. Here we come little clams! We donned our shovels (you need big, sturdy shovels) and headed out for the hunt. It took a while to find our groove but we followed my brother’s experienced advice and were soon scooping ourselves up some hefty clams rather than accidentally cutting them in half.
How do you dig properly for clams?
Here’s how to dig for clams. Basically, you start by looking for holes in the sand (in very shallow water) where they send their long noses to the surface of the sand (but still under water) to breathe. We were even lucky enough to not just see the holes but to also see their noses peeking out of the surface of the sand, wiggling away like an elephant’s trunk.
Once you’ve found the hole (or group of holes), put your shovel in the sand about six inches away from the hole. You can’t just push the shovel down and then scoop out because you’ll break the little guys on the upstroke. That’s what was happening with us at first.
Instead, you have to actually angle your shovel so that it sinks STRAIGHT down in the sand – and deep (so jump on the shovel to get it as deep as you can). You basically have to push the shovel into the sand about ten-ish inches to be successful. Then, slowly, with your foot on the edge of the shovel, start to angle the shovel to scoop up the sand.
By compressing them in the sand like this they can’t move and so you don’t have to rush. If you do it like this, they should almost always pop up just where you want them: right in the middle of the sand pile you dig up. We had a great time hunting down and collecting the little guys!
Once you’ve dug up a nice shovel full like this, sift through the sand and collect all of the clams. If you had seen three holes before digging your shovel in, then you should expect to find three clams! Usually, the bigger the hole, the bigger the clam.
Rinse them and then set them in a pail full of sea water – and keep on digging until you have as many as you want. I always kept a pail beside me, sitting in the shallow water. Periodically my nephew would run up and collect my pail to then add them to the big bucket.
How do you eat them?
The important thing to remember about clams is that they live in sand! This means that they are sandy. Go figure! So the trick is to let them de-sand themselves for a few days in a bucket of sea water. Leave them in a cool, shady spot so they don’t cook in the water and then, after a couple of days, they’re ready.
To cook them, you can either:
- boil them in salt water until they open
- steam them in wine and herbs until they open
- shell them live (ouch!), roll them in batter and deep fry
- lay them individually on the BBQ and BBQ them until they open
- wrap them in foil (with wine and herbs) to steam on the BBQ
It doesn’t matter how you cook them, they are always fantastic! We normally just boil or BBQ them. Easy peasy! But remember: just like eating mussels, if any don’t open, you must throw them away!
We dug late into the summer’s day and enjoyed watching the sunset over Bay du Vin. This truly is a traditional Eastern Canadian experience to enjoy when you visit The Maritimes, a place I’m so very proud to call my home!
- Written, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Krista Beauvais (except map found online)
- Clam Digging Location: Bay du Vin located on Google Maps
- Additional Info: best months to dig are June, July, August
- Via the Wodara Contact Form
- Via email: krista [at] wodara [dot] org