Facts and History of
the Rhode Island Quahog
while fished for commercially in Rhode Island are not the
shellfish that us Rhodys are noted for. The shellfish that I
miss the most since leaving the state is known as a Quahog. The
name Quahog comes from the Narragansett Indian word for the
hard shall clam, (poquauhock).
They are also known locally, depending on their size as "Little
Necks, "Cherrystones," "Topnecks,"
and "Chowder Clams."
Quahogs can live
as long as 40 years and reach a length of over 4 inches. Their
age can be determined by the number of rings on the shell.
Keeper's must be at least 1 inch in thickness.
When I was
growing up in Saunderstown, RI, almost every time we went to the
beach we would take along a burlap sack for gathering Quahogs.
We would wait for low tide and then wade out to about chest high
water. Planting our heels firmly on the bottom we would rotate
rapidly back and forth digging into the soft sand on the bottom.
The clams could be felt as hard objects beneath our heels. When
one was found we would dip down and place it in the sack.
the preferred method of most of our local fishermen. The clam
tong consists of two long wooden handles,
and two wire mesh baskets with angled teeth for digging into the
sand on the business end. Another method in general usage was
dredging, however this method severely depleted the existing
stocks and today is highly restricted.
supplies over a fourth of the country's annual commercial catch
and the Quahog is the official state shellfish. Most of the
lower bay is open to Quahogging, however most of the upper bay
is permanently closed to shell fishing due to pollution.
found in Rhode Island waters is the soft shell or steamer clam.
There is no finer eating than a big kettle of steamers dipped in
butter sauce. Steamers are found all along the shoreline in
marshy to slightly rocky beach areas and can be located by their
distinctive squirt holes. We used a clam rake to gather them
when I was younger. My brother says that he now uses a bathroom
plunger. The plunger is placed over the squirt hole and used the
same way you would unclog your plumbing. The suction created
sucks the clam to the surface and also helps to keep the shell
When I was
stationed in southern Maryland, I tried their version of the
steamer clam called "Nanos." They are quite
similar to their northern cousins, although slightly larger and
with a longer neck.
made some of the best clam and fish chowders in New England.
(Could I say
Here is her
recipe for New England Clam Chowder:
Hearty New England
2 quarts chopped
quahogs (from live clams steamed open)
4 medium onions, chopped
2 cups clam juice (drained from clams)
2 quarts of half & half cream
1 pound Salt Pork (diced)
18 medium potatoes (diced)
1 quart of whole milk
salt & pepper
and flour to thicken
Steam your clams until
they just open, strain and reserve 2 cups of the clam juice.
Shuck and chop the clams and set aside.
Fry the salt pork until it just begins to turn then add the
chopped onions and continue frying until they are a light golden
Place the salt pork and onions in a large kettle along with the
potatoes and just enough water to cover them.
After the potatoes are done add the clams and juice and cook for
an additional 5 minutes over low heat.
Add the milk and half & half cream and simmer for one hour being
careful not to bring it to a boil.
(Do not let it curdle!)
Add flour as a thickening and salt and pepper to taste.
After spooning the chowder into bowls place a large pat of
butter on the surface of each serving and allow to melt.
1. Some folks also
sprinkle paprika over the surface of the chowder.
2. If you add anything
else such as celery it is quite simply
a New England chowder.