Today we made a short video blog about how to gather razor clams at low tide. Hope you enjoy the clip, it was a family effort! We are extremely lucky to live just a few minutes walk from the beach. Perhaps we'll see you on a coastal survival or foraging course here on the West Coast in the future - that's something to make plans for when restrictions lift. Let's all stay safe and well at home for now.
Razor clams inhabit the sandy lower reaches of the shore - they live in burrows just below the surface and are very good to eat! Because they live at the limit of the shore they are only accessible (without swimming) during the spring tides. Spring tides occur twice a month around new and full moons and have the greatest tidal range. The term here relates to tides springing up and down and not to the time of year. The largest spring tides do however occur around the spring and autumn equinoxes. The limited availability throughout the month is probably a good thing as this reduces the number that can be taken, making it easier to forage sustainably.
A word of caution about eating bivalves (molluscs with two shells - razor clams, mussels, cockles etc.). These are all filter-feeders and therefore tend to accumulate any contaminants in the environment, e.g. pollutants, bacteria or microscopic algae. For this reason choose a foraging area away from main habitation or any obvious forms of pollution. Water temperature can also have an effect on the risk of bacterial infection and algal blooms. Algal blooms are mainly formed during the summer months when microscopic algae undergo localised population explosions. In large concentrations they represent biotoxins which when accumulated in the flesh of shellfish can be toxic to humans.
It is often impossible to detect blooms with the naked eye so the safest strategy is to only forage for bivalves during the cooler period of the year. The old adage is to restrict shellfish foraging to months with an "R". Sometimes if there is scientific monitoring (e.g. because of shellfish farming) you can access online test results on the safety of collecting shellfish during summer. I check the food standards agency website which reports on on density of phytoplankton and biotoxins:
The consequence of eating bivalves contaminated with biotoxins is usually a bad stomach, but rarely there are cases of paralysis, and even death, so it pays to be careful! Although it has little to no effect on biotoxins, I recommend cooking all shellfish to avoid bacterial contamination. Other shellfish such as winkles and limpets are usually safe to eat at any time, because they are herbivores.
Razors are mainly in sand or sandy gravel only at very low tide point. Look for eroded key-ish shaped holes nearby the waters edge. The real give-away is when you see a squirt of water. Once you get your eye in - you will see the holes all over the place. I use a trowel or spade to loosen the sand around the hole but don’t put the spade too near as you will damage the shell. Feel down with your hand for the tip of the shell and hold onto it. Try wriggling it and pulling it up - it will resist at first but will run out of energy and come free. Watch your hand on sharp bits of shell though!
Another way to harvest these clams is to squirt brine into the holes. This causes the clams to emerge from their refuge where they are easily collected. I don't always find this technique as reliable and think digging is more appropriate as a survival technique (you may not have a pot of salt in a survival situation!).,
As you can see we made a delicious supper with the spoots, they taste amazing grilled with butter and wild garlic, and a little home-made mayo for dipping.