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date: 19 January 2018


The Oxford Companion to Food

Alan Davidson

, Tom JaineTom Jaine


Panope generosa, the largest burrowing clam in the world, is found on the Pacific coast of N. America from Vancouver Island to California. Its common name, thought to be of Indian origin, may appear as gweduc or goeduck or even gooeyduck, the last version being closest to the usual pronunciation of the name. According to another story, aired in the correspondence columns of the Tacoma Daily Ledger in July 1917, the Indians in the neighbourhood of Puget Sound knew the creature by a name which was pronounced ‘hyas squish-squish’; and it was a certain John F. Gowey whose own name supplanted the original one. Mr Gowey was an ardent duck-hunter. On one occasion, when no ducks were to be seen, the volatile marksman fired at the jets of water emitted by these huge clams and ‘bagged’ several of them. Hence Gowey’s ducks, later corrupted to gooeyducks. This story is not supported by Webster’s dictionary.

The hinged shells of the geoduck are relatively small and quite incapable of meeting over the plump, orange-red body; still less of accommodating the lengthy neck or siphon, which is ivory in colour. A large geoduck may weigh 5 kg (11 lb). A mature adult, perhaps 15 years old, will hang down for a length of 60 or 70 cm (over 2') when held up by the end of its siphon; and its body will resemble that of a trussed hen in size and shape.

Geoduck meat is delicious. That of the siphon is best used in a chowder, after it has been scalded and peeled and the horny tip discarded. The enlarged mantle of the clam, known as the ‘breast meat’, can be sliced into thin escalopes and prepared in a variety of ways.

Baby geoducks can and do swim; but they settle in the mud at an early age and stay put thereafter. Their favoured habitat is around the line of the very lowest tides, so that it is only on certain days of the year that fishermen on foot can get to them. Even so, it has been found necessary, since the 1920s, to accord them protection by regulating the methods and scale of the catch.

Efforts were made in the 19th century to establish geoducks on the Atlantic coast, but they failed. No one seems to have tried to transfer them to another continent.