It was the end of the day when Linda Calder made a final sweep of a rocky area in Napeague Harbor. As she dragged her rake, she heard it scratch against something as solid as a rock. Curiosity piqued, she dug deeper—and pulled out the biggest clam she had ever seen, weighing in at 2 pounds 9 ounces.On the advice of a friend, Ms. Calder entered her clam into last year’s East Hampton Town Trustees Largest Clam Contest, and won, with her entry tying the largest clam ever entered in the contest.
Ms. Calder will be back again this year to enter the contest, slated for Sunday, October 6, at the Donald Lamb Building in Amagansett.
Anywhere from 75 to 100 people typically attend the contest, vying for the title of holder of “the largest clam,” not only in categories for Lake Montauk, Three Mile Harbor, Accabonac Harbor and Napeague Harbor, but overall.
Ms. Calder, who lives in Springs, has been clamming a lot this year, and has recently been searching for a clam that matches the whopper she dug up last year.
“I’ve been experimenting, but I’m not going to give away my secrets,” she said this week. “There are places in Napeague where clams tend to be larger. It’s a challenge to find an area that has really good clams. You might find one area that has mostly large clams and one that has smaller clams.”
She said sandy areas are easier than the rocky places; however, it was a rocky place where her colossal clam came from last year.
“When your rake goes over a clam, you really know it—it feels like you’re scratching a rock,” she said. “You dig down a couple of inches and go across the sand with your rake and get used to the sound and feel of it. In a rocky area, it’s a lot harder to clam, and many times you get a basket full of rocks and no clams.”
She suggested, for an easier time, to check the tide before heading out—low tide is the best, very early in the morning or later in the evening. Much of it is trial and error, she said. And it can be hard on the back.
“It is well worth it,” she said, adding that she often goes out with her fiancé, Richard Ferrara.
With bounty in hand, Ms. Calder often folds her clams into recipes like linguine with white clam sauce, or a clam and fluke dish, which she calls “Linda’s Napeague Clam Cioppino.”
Seeing the value in a good clam recipe, Springs resident Liz Mendelman, who is the Springs School Board president, typically stakes out the mud flats at her family’s Halsey’s Marina to find her clams. Using a rake, and often her feet, she plucks clams out with ease and throws together meals like clam pizza and linguine with white clam sauce. Her husband, Peter Mendelman, makes clam chowder, which he has entered in the clam chowder contest at the event each year.
Ms. Mendelman said she lets her daughters, Annelise and Kaylee, enter the largest clam contest in the junior division each year. “They are avid clammers,” she said. “We have our own little clam festival on Gerard Drive every summer.”
Her family and friends, and neighbors the Franey family, get together one day in either July or August and clam all day long, she said. The kids compete for the biggest, the smallest and the prettiest clam, while the adults gather their clam collection for a feast.
“It’s really locals, and summer residents, who get together to really appreciate the beauty of going out in the harbor and cooking,” she said. “It’s fun. You’re going out and harvesting what you want to eat for that night. You have to find your spot, like fishing, and then you keep it a secret.”
She said that there are popular spots, however, like Keyes Island, off Maidstone, Sammys Beach, around the Northwest Woods peninsula, and in Napeague Harbor.
This year’s contest will be judged by older baymen who have lived their lives on the water, according to Diane McNally, the East Hampton Town Trustees clerk.
She said this year’s contest marks the 23rd year since the event was started and the mission hasn’t changed.
“We encourage going shellfishing,” she said. “That’s the intent of the whole thing: to encourage this local tradition of ours and this local product of ours. We always encourage having a junior division, too. We want to make sure the next generation continues to harvest and enjoy the clams and keep our water clean.”
The public has until Saturday, October 5, to drop off their clams at local seafood shops, including Stuart’s Seafood, the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, Gosman’s and the Amagansett Seafood Store. The contest begins at noon on Sunday. Non-clammers of all ages are welcome: there will be clams on the half shell and clam chowder for everyone.