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Littleneck Clams Farmed by Hand

by Amy Albert

fromFine Cooking
Issue 74

Cape Cod’s Wellfleet Bay is blessed with certain quirks of nature that make it an ideal place for shellfish: plenty of water circulation, fresh springs, and good algae growth. The bay is also home to Patrick and Barbara Woodbury’s clam beds, which harbor some of the most succulent littlenecks around. Pat and Barb met in graduate school while studying marine zoology and then left school to make a go at farming shellfish in Wellfleet. Word of their fine clams soon spread throughout the area.

What makes Woodbury clams so delicious has much to do with the gift of a great site—and a hands-on approach that “gives us a unique awareness and control of the quality of our shellfish,” says Pat. He and Barb take vigilant care of the beds, they harvest and sort by hand, and, unlike large-scale producers, they monitor the entire process themselves, from planting to personally ­delivering the clams to their customers. 

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1. Baby clams, called seedlings, spend the summer in nursery boxes in Wellfleet Bay. They take three or four months to grow to thumbnail size, when they’re ready for planting. 2. To prepare for planting, Pat and Barb rake carefully so the beds are crab-free. 3. Sown seedlings are ­covered with protective netting, which remains in place for at least a year. “It’s all about excluding predators,” says Barb. “Small clams are delectable to fish, crabs, and birds.” 4. The netting is removed after about a year, and then the little­necks spend another year or so in the sand before they’re ­mature. 5. “The smell and flavor of a fresh littleneck is like being ­immersed in the sea,” says Pat.

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