NATIONAL FRIED CLAM DAY
National Fried Clam Day is observed annually on July 3rd. Fried clams are an iconic food in the New England states. They tend to be served at seaside clam shacks or roadside restaurants. The clams are dipped in milk and coated with a combination of regular, corn, and/or pastry flour. Then the coated clams are fried in oil. They can be “clam strips” (sliced parts of hard-shell clams) or whole soft-shell clams. Whole soft-shell clams impart a fuller flavor. However, some restaurants remove the clam’s neck.
In 1914, Lawrence Henry “Chubby” Woodman and his wife Bessie opened a small concession stand on Main Street in Essex, Massachusetts. On weekends they sold small grocery items, homemade potato chip and fresh clams that Chubby dug himself. At first, business was slow but on July 3, 1916, things began to change.
It was on that day a local fisherman named Tarr was visiting the stand, and Chubby complained, “Business was slower than a couple of snails headed uphill.” Tarr, while nibbling on the tasty homemade potato chips, noticed a bucket of clams nearby and jokingly said, “Why don’t you fry up some of your clams? If they’re as tasty as those potato chips of yours, you’ll never have to worry about having enough customers.” Fried clams were unheard of, and Tarr’s comment was rewarded with cold stares from two other customers. “That’s ridiculous!” said one. The other one remarked, “Clams have shells.” The poor fisherman muttered, “I wasn’t serious. It was a joke. I know you can’t fry clams like chips!”
However, when the three men left, Chubby and Bessie started to think about it. What if they did fry up some of the clams and sold them? If they tasted good, they would have created a way to increase the demand for their own shucked clams. “Let’s try it,” Bessie said as she tossed a slab of lard into the fry pot usually used to make potato chips. They shucked some clams and experimented with different batters, having some locals try them out. When the overall verdict was “delicious!” they knew they were on to something big.
The next day, during the 4th of July parade, Chubby and Bessie presented the first fried clams to the citizens of Essex, and the Yankee appetite has never been the same since. A year later a Boston fish market advertised that it was “now equipped to serve the new tasty treat – fried clams.” And Howard Johnson, owner of a chain of restaurants on the East Coast, came himself to learn how to make fried clams from Chubby.
On the backside of their wedding certificate, Lawrence and Bessie wrote what they considered to be important family events. The first two lines were the birth dates of their two oldest sons, Wilbur and Henry. The third line was the other important birth date in the family. It read: “We fried the first fried clam—in the town of Essex, July 3, 1916.”
Now, 102 years and six generations later clams are still frying at Woodman’s, where it all began.
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