Happy as a clam doesn’t begin to describe it! My bliss was considerable and my basket was full. Summer on the Vineyard, I imagine that you, too, can recall your own perfect day this season. Hands down (and deep in the muck), it was the best day of my summer. Eyes scanning the Tisbury Great Pond bottom for holes and my arm plunged in the black muddy sludge up to my shoulder, I couldn’t have been more pleased. 

Nor could I have had a better dinner that night. The objects of my desire were clams. Though initially out to forage for the soft-shelled variety, my catch was a mix of those steamer clams and another relative, the stout tagelus.

The stout tagelus, or stout razor, is one of two local varieties of razor clams. The more familiar razor to most is the Atlantic razor clam, also called the jackknife clam. However, it was the stout razor that had my attention and became my supper.

Though edible, stout razor clams are not often seen at fish markets or on menus. This has little to with their taste. Wild food epicurean Euell Gibbons insists that “few creatures will furnish more tasty dishes than razor clams,” and he suggests that they are the “finest prize” that will fall into the hands of the clammer.

The stout razor clam’s lack of availability as a market clam has more to do with its longevity (or lack of it) outside of the water.  This clam can’t close its shell, and will quickly dry out and die if not eaten the same day it is caught. It isn’t only keeping them fresh that is difficult, catching razor clams can also be a challenge. 

You have to go deep for these delicacies. Stout razor clams live in burrows that are at least 18 inches below the surface, and their powerful foot allows them to pull themselves down from reaching hands and strong suction makes it a balanced tug of war battle. 

First, though, you have to find them. Although most clams have a single neck that has double siphons, stout razor clams have two necks, each with a single siphon. Thus you look for two separate siphon holes that will be evident to only the most eagle-eyed clam diggers.

Having conquered the clams and caught and cooked our fill, we were completed contented. American writer Hubert Selby, Jr. explained our feeling exactly when he said: “They luxuriated in the feeling of deep and pervading satisfaction, a feeling of knowing absolutely that all was well with the world and them and that the world was not only their oyster it was also their linguini and clam sauce. Not only were all things possible, but all things were theirs.”

Our clams were steamed to perfection and eaten with butter the first day. Leftovers were chopped up and made into clam fritters. So many clams were consumed that I confess it would be proper to quote biographer Louis Kronenberger: “She ate so many clams that her stomach rose and fell with the tide.”

The only ones likely not thrilled with the day were the bivalves. For although Shel Silverstein believed “it’s all the same to the clam,” we can be sure that the ones that were caught that day would not have agreed.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.