My trip to England spanned the exceptional spring tides at the beginning of March. Another set, with predicted ebbs of potentially similar extent, are timetabled for the end of the month.
On the afternoon Mum and I returned to England, Daniel and Nick went to a local shore to dig for razor shells.
Razor clams live in a perpendicular position in soft sediments and the siphon holes are fairly conspicuous and about the same diameter as the shells themselves. Sometimes the shells will spout as you walk above them and the trick is to dig very quickly to find the clam.
The long thin shell and the strong muscular foot of a ‘razorfish’ mean they can dig deep and rapidly and it needs practice to grab them before they bury too far. A more effective method is to carry a pot of cheap salt and trickle a little down the siphon hole. The change in salinity level causes the razor to rise to the surface.
Such techniques are not necessary when Daniel is on the hunt. The shore they search is on a sand bank south of the St Vaast pier. There are perhaps another fifteen men razoring there. Whilst Nick digs with a fork, Daniel plunges his hand into the sand wherever he sees a spout and grabs the razors and pulls them out.
The clams were in plentiful supply, although Nick and Daniel had searched exactly the same place in March 2009 and found none. How the populations might move around is a bit of a mystery. But also the clams are probably much more numerous than we suppose. For every one razor that is taken there are probably 20 more in the sediments immediately adjacent. Despite years of exploitation these clams are not being fished out. And, the area that can be fished by people on the shore is small when one considers the extensive sandy seabed which extends way offshore, and which is never touched. These huge razorfish beds act as a source of constant recruitment.
As Nick and Daniel retreat when the tide has turned, the razors pop up involuntarily to the surface. Possibly a change in the water table causes this. During the afternoon they collected about 150 between them though they could have taken twice as many.
On the way home Nick met Anne at the boulangerie and invited the Poulets for a razor fest. Back at the house Daniel cooked some on the open fire. The others were steamed open then dressed in a sauce made with white wine, cream, shallots.
Uneaten razors are never wasted, they can be frozen to add to seafood dishes, risottos, pasta al vongole. I’ve seldom seen razor clams offered for sale in England although I did see them at a fish market in Cardiff some years ago. Certainly they are rather strange looking and perhaps their appearance puts some people off. A fellow conchologists once joked that they reminded her of second-hand condoms. Need I say more? But this is a shame because as clams go they have a sweet clammy flavour and are definitely worth a try.