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The Clamor For Maine's Clams

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My friend Mike Brown of Duck Trap, Maine, who has written some jolly good Down East reading under the poison-pen name of Perc Sane, created a smart little boy who became a millionaire at 5 by selling clam juice to summer people. A purse seine is a fishing net with a puckering string so you can draw it shut when fish get in it; and clam juice is the sea water left over when you steam off a mess of clams.

Not only that, but in Down-Maine a clam is the long-necked, soft-shelled chowder candidate and never the New York or Baltimore impostor known in Maine as a quahog (CO-hog). It's from the Indian, and the quahog is a clam right enough, but chewy and tough, and by no means comparable. Clam juice is esteemed as a delicacy, and while summer folks use it, they probably call it bouillon. Any seafood is enhanced by some clam juice in the preparation.

For long-long years, Maine clams were packed in tin cans for the carriage trade, and then clams became scarce. As a business, canning clams declined. Down the coast (to the east'ard), a certain packer of seafood turned to clams as a seasonal way to keep his crew intact until something else came along. He'd do sardines, some gasperaux, and perhaps some alewives in tall cans for export, and he'd make a little money. Then when there was nothing else to pack, he'd do a few clams. And he discovered a most interesting opportunity.

As the fresh clams, just out of the adjacent clam flats, were steamed in his cooking vat, a byproduct was a great quantity of clam juice. The delicious little clam was shucked from its shell by ladies hired to do so, put in cans, hermetically sealed, and sold on the market at a loss. Nobody ever made money canning clams.

So why can any? The answer was always the same: "It keeps our crew ready, pays the help a little in the lean season, and while we don't make any money, it isn't all that big a loss."


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