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Categories: Clam

American Indians used parts of the shell from these bivalve mollusks to make wampum — beads used for barter, ornamental, ceremonial and spiritual purposes. The two main varieties of clams are hard-shell and soft-shell. The hard-shell clams found on the East Coast (where they're also called by the Indian name quahog) come in three sizes. The smallest are littleneck clams, which have a shell diameter less than two inches. Next comes the medium-size cherrystone clam, about 2½ inches across. The largest of this trio is the chowder clam (also called simply "large" clam), with a shell diameter of at least three inches. Among the West Coast hard-shell varieties are the pacific littleneck clam, the pismo and the small, sweet butter clams from Puget Sound. Soft-shell clams, also called soft clams, actually have thin, brittle shells. They can't completely close their shells because of a long, rubbery neck (or siphon) that extends beyond its edge. The most common East Coast soft-shell is the steamer clam. The most famous West Cost soft-shells are the razor clam (so named because its shell resembles a folded, old-fashioned straight razor) and the geoduck clam (pronounced GOO-ee-duck). The geoduck is a comical-looking, 6-inch-long clam with a neck that can reach up to about 1½ feet long. On the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, clams are available year-round. In California, the season is November through April. Clams are sold live in the shell, fresh or frozen shucked, and canned. When buying hard-shell clams in the shell, make sure the shells are tightly closed. If a shell is slightly open, tap it lightly. If it doesn't snap shut, the clam is dead and should be discarded. To test a soft-shell clam, lightly touch its neck; if it moves, it's alive. The guideline for buying shucked clams is plumpness and clear liquid. Store live clams up to two days in a 40°F refrigerator; refrigerate shucked clams up to four days. Clams can be cooked in a variety of ways, including steaming and baking. All clams should be cooked gently to prevent toughening. Clams are high in protein and contain fair amounts of calcium and iron.