Before collecting, check with local authorities; most states and many seashore towns have laws requiring a permit. Inquire whether the waters where you intend to collect are pollution free and the clams safe to eat.
You’ll find soft-shell clams, known also as steamers or long-necks, on tidal flats in brackish water from Labrador to North Carolina on the East Coast or north of Monterey on the West Coast. At low tide, watch for small holes or squirts of water in exposed flats or sudden small clouds of mud in shallow water. Dig the clams with a garden fork.
Hard-shell clams-called cherrystones or littlenecks when small and quahogs when full-grown (about 4 inches across)-are found mainly on the East and Gulf coasts. They live in deep water in bays. At low tide probe the bottom with a clam rake that has a basket behind the tines; any clam you strike will be picked up in the basket.
Scrub clam shells with a stiff brush and rinse in several changes of water. For better cleansing, give clams a cornmeal bath: sprinkle a handful of cornmeal into water to cover and leave the clams for 3 to 12 hours. Discard any clam that floats, has a broken shell, or does not close when touched.
To open a raw clam, hold the clam in one hand. Insert the tip of a clam knife between the halves of the shell. Press the blunt edge of the knife with the fingers of the hand holding the clam and move the blade around to sever the muscles.