What Are Quahogs?
For those who live along the Atlantic coast in both Canada and the U.S. - especially, but not limited to the nothern regions, the Quahog is a widely-recognized clam.
This hard-shelled bi-valve is known scientifically as Mercenaria mercenaria - a name derived from a Latin word meaning "wages." This term was chosen because Native Americans used quahog shells to make the beads that were used as money (called wampum).
Depending on where one lives, the clams are known by a variety of names such as "hard clams" or "hard-shell clams." In some areas they are also known as "Little Necks", a term which likely comes from the fact that Quahogs live buried just below the surface in the bottom sand or mud, with their two siphons (or necks) sticking up into the water.
Usually the term Little Necks refers to the smallest size at which the clams can legally be fished - measuring 1 inch thick at the largest thickness. Similarly. "chowders "are the largest size; and "cherrystones" are in between.
Another primary use for the beads was in the form of "belts". The beads were woven into patterns which spelled out such things as tribal history or inter-tribal treaties. They were also used to sanctify wedding vows.
Today, while it is no longer accepted as currency, Wampum is said to bring the owner good luck in financial matters - - - making it both beautiful and valuable.
Many people along the shores of the Atlantic ocean eat these clams. In fact, if you've ever eaten a can of clam chowder from the grocery store, you have likely eaten Quahogs as well, since they are usually the main ingredient in canned chowders.
Historically known to be long-living clams, it has only recently come to light that Quahogs quite probably are, in fact, among the oldest living animals on the planet.
Researchers have been studying Quahogs for years in their search for information about the planet's climate. Like a tree, a Quahog's growth is indicated in rings or lines found on the outside of its shells. Very recently it was discovered that one such Quahog retrieved from the shores of Iceland had grown to the incredible age of 507 years old and was still growing! Scientists now believe there are likely other Quahogs still growing which are several hundred years old.
Named "Ming" because it had been alive during the Ming dynasty, the 507-year-old Quahog made headlines around the world. To read more of the story of Ming, check out this these links:
In both the U.S. and in Atlantic Canada, Quahogs are fished commercially and by locals who prize the meat for chowders and eat them raw.
For the public, fishing them is quite simple, as they are found in the top 3 inches of sandy or sand-and-mud bottoms, usually below the low-tide line. It's easier to dig for them at low tide.
Digging your own quahogs requires little or no equipment. One popular method is "treading": Simply probe the bottom with your foot until you feel a quahog, then reach down and pull it up with your hand. Alternatively, you may use a hand rake (available at hardware stores). A clam rake resembles a garden rake, but the tines are longer and the handle is shorter. Drag the rake through the bottom until you feel a scraping, then push the rake in deeper and pull it toward you and upwards to harvest the quahogs. Be sure to wear old shoes or sneakers to protect your feet.
Once you get the quahogs home, rinse them in cold water to remove sand and discard any that have opened (they are either dead or dying). They will keep up to a week in the refrigerator if they are unopened and laid on their sides.
Shucking (opening) quahogs can be frustrating, especially for the novice. Clams "relax" and become much easier to open if they are chilled, on ice or in the refrigerator, for several hours. To open a clam, hold it in your left hand (if you are right-handed) and use your right hand to work a special shucking knife (available at the housewares departments of most stores, or at many fish stores) into the space between the shells. As soon as the knife penetrates, slide it along the inside of one shell to cut the two adductor muscles. Open the clam and detach the meat by cutting the other side of the adductor muscle.
The quahog is now ready to be served on the half shell, used in recipes, or frozen for later use. Quahogs make excellent chowder, clam cakes, stuffed clams, and clam sauce for pasta.