National Fried Clam Day is observed annually on July 3rd. Fried clams are an iconic food in the New England states.
Seaside clam shacks or roadside restaurants serve these delectable nuggets and tend to be the primary source for anyone seeking them. 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.
July 3, 1916
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 chips, and fresh clams that Chubby dug himself. At first, the business was slow. But on July 3, 1916, things began to change.
On that day, Chubby complained to a local fisherman named Tarr who was visiting the stand, “Business is slower than a couple of snails headed uphill.”
“Business was lower than a couple of snails headed uphill.” Chubby Woodman
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 two other customers rewarded Tarr’s comment with cold stares. “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.
July 4, 1916
The next day, during the 4th of July parade, Chubby and Bessie presented the first fried clams to the citizens of Essex. The Yankee appetite has never been the same since. A year later a Boston fish market advertised “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, over 100 years and six generations later clams are still frying at Woodman’s, where it all began.
While fried clams are celebrated today, try them deep fried, or in New England style Clam Chowder.
HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalFriedClamDay
Go out for dinner with friends and have fried clams. Try your hand at making your own fried clams and share them with family and friends. Post on social media with #NationalFriedClamDay.
NATIONAL FRIED CLAM DAY HISTORY
Woodman’s of Essex submitted National Fried Clam Day in May 2015.