For New Englanders, an addiction to fried clams is a rite of passage, one that is celebrated every July 3 on National Fried Clam Day. Fried clams have been part of the New England coastal culture for more than a century. Fried clams are an acquired taste for some; for others, it is nothing short of love at first bite. Folks who live or summer along New England’s stunning Atlantic coast cannot imagine summer without the brush of a salty sea breeze on the cheek, and a basket of fried clams and a cold drink in hand.
History of National Fried Clam Day
It’s rare to know exactly who, when and where the first of anything was created or invented. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery, and then everyone stakes a claim to the original invention. Fried clams are an exception, with a documented back story validating when freshly dug New England clams were first battered and deep-fried in a sleepy little New England coastal town.
Deep frying clams was a serendipitous brainchild of Lawrence Henry “Chubby” Woodman and his wife, Bessie. The couple began operating a small seaside stand in 1914, in Essex, Massachusetts, selling soft shell clams that Chubby dug himself and other goods to locals on the weekends. Business was slow the first two years, until July 3, 1916.
On that day, a local fisherman named Tarr was “shootin’ the breeze” with Chubby while enjoying a basket of Bessie’s delicious homemade potato chips. When Tarr asked Chubby how business was doing, Chubby quipped, “Business is slower than a couple of snails headed uphill.” Tarr wisecracked that maybe Bessie should deep fry some of Chubby’s freshly dug clams, heaped in a nearby bucket, the way she deep-fried potato chips. The two friends had a good laugh over the thought of deep-fried clams. But the idea intrigued the Woodmans, who talked about the idea of shucking and deep frying some of those clams that were in that bucket after Tarr left the store.
Chubby and Bessie reasoned If fried clams tasted good, they may have a way to increase the demand for their shucked clams and be more competitive. They agreed it was worth a try. Bessie heated fresh lard in the fry pot used to make her irresistible potato chips, and the two shucked clams and experimented with different batters all afternoon. They asked a few willing locals to be taste testers. By the end of the day, the verdict was in and it was an overwhelming “delicious.” That’s when Chubby and Bessie Woodman knew they were on to something big.
The next day, during the town’s annual Fourth of July parade, Chubby and Bessie introduced the citizens of Essex to the first fried clams. And just like that, a New England tradition was born. New England summers have never been the same since.
National Fried Clam Day timeline
Scientists exploring a cave in South Africa report evidence of shellfish dinners enjoyed by humans.
Chubby and Bessie Woodman open a seaside stand to sell soft shell clams and ice cream to locals.
Bessie and Chubby Woodman introduce deep-fried clams in their hometown of Essex during the town’s annual Fourth of July parade.
July 3 is officially declared National Fried Clam Day
National Fried Clam Day FAQs
Are fried clams good for you?
Clams themselves are quite nutritious, but fried clams do absorb whatever fats they are fried in, adding calories and carbohydrates depending on the type of oil and batter or breading used to prepare the clams.
What is the difference between whole belly clams and clam strips?
The clam belly is the soft round center of a soft-shell clam. The belly is the most tender part of the clam. A clam strip is a term used for the loose hanging piece under the belly. The belly and the strip are the parts of the clam typically eaten. There is another, less desirable part of the clam called the neck, which is the clam’s siphon. The neck is tough and chewy and considered inedible by many people.
Do clams have poop in them?
When you eat clams, you will ingest small waste particles left in the clam’s digestive system. So yes, clams contain what equates to “clam poop” and when you eat whole clams you consume this waste, sometimes less, sometimes more.
How to Enjoy National Fried Clam Day
Visit the birthplace of fried clams
New England fried clam aficionados swear the only place on the planet to enjoy authentic fresh, sweet, and tender fried clams is in New England. While there are dozens of clam shacks dotting the New England coast serving mouth-watering fried clams, the only place you can enjoy original recipe fried clams requires a trip to Woodman’s of Essex in Essex, Massachusetts, north of Boston. There you will find fifth-generation members of the Woodman family still frying clams the same way Chubby and Bessie did over 100 years ago.
Tell jokes to be happy as a clam
Dads especially will enjoy telling clam jokes and using clam puns to shellibrate National Fried Clam Day, mostly to the delight of the kids. Don’t clam up if you don’t know any good clam jokes, such as, “If you find yourself addicted to fried clams, you should sea kelp.”
Dine on a basket of deep-fried clams
You will never know what you have been missing until you give deep-fried clams a try. It may be challenging to find a restaurant near you that knows the New England secrets to frying a perfect batch of clams but go for one that fries the whole clam so you get a tender belly in each bite. Trust us when we say, “Take a pass on clam strips.”
5 Surprising Facts About Clams
The number of different species of clams there are worldwide.
A soft-shell clam by any other name is still a clam for frying
Softshell clams are the kind of clams that are deep-fried. Softshell clams are also called long necks, steamers, nanny nose clams, or Ipsowich clams.
Mollusks or shellfish?
Softshell clams are members of the mollusk family of invertebrates, which are animals without a backbone, but clams are also considered shellfish.
Clams are a healthy food
Clams are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, being packed with protein, low in calories, fat, and cholesterol, and full of essential vitamins and minerals.Home, sweet coastal home
Home, sweet coastal home
Softshell clams are found along the east coast of the United States, from northern Canada to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. They are also found in regions of Alaska, Washington state, and California on the Pacific coast, and in western Europe.
Why We Love The Woodman’s Fried Clam Story
The classic American success story
While Chubby and Bessie Woodman’s story may sound like a fairy tale come true, it is the quintessential rags-to-riches American success story. It is the stuff dreams are made of and what keeps entrepreneurs motivated to be part of the American Dream.
All in the Family
One hundred years and five generations later the Woodman’s legacy lives on as a thriving family business, right where it all began – at home. In a culture where families are more likely to be separated by hundreds if not thousands of miles, with everyone pursuing their own dream, the Woodman’s story reminds us that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. What matters most probably surrounds you right where you begin.
Inspires us to take risks
If the Woodmans had not rolled up their sleeves, shucked a few steamer clams, battered, and dropped them into the fry kettle, there would be no National Fried Clam Day. Chubby and Bessie figured they had nothing to lose except a few clams that were just sitting in a bucket on the floor anyway. Their story inspires us to be willing to take a risk.
National Fried Clam Day dates