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The History of Fried Clams

Fried clams were inspired by a joke. On July 3, 1916, Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman and his wife Bessie were working at their roadside stand on Main Street in Essex, Massachusetts where they sold small grocery items, homemade potato chips, and fresh clams. A local fisherman named Tarr visited the stand and make a comment about business being slow, then jokingly suggested that Chubby should fry up some of the clams and that if they tasted like the stand’s potato chips, they’d never need to worry about having enough customers again. Two other customers were annoyed and remarked that his suggestion was ridiculous. But after the three patrons left, Chubby and Bessie decided to try it. They figured it would increase the demand for their clams, which Chubby dug and shucked himself. They put lard into the frying pot they normally used for making potato chips, shucked some clams, tried a few different batters, and fried them up. After some locals taste-tested their new creation and pronounced it “delicious!” Chubby and Bessie realized they were onto something big. During that year’s Fourth of July parade, they served their fried clams, which were an immediate success. In fact, the popularity of the new food grew so quickly that the following year, a Boston fish market advertised that it was “now equipped to serve the new taste treat – fried clams.” Howard Johnson, the owner of a chain of restaurants that once had over 100 locations across the East Coast, even came to Chubby to learn how to fry clams. Fried clams are now popular all over, but especially in New England. And the Woodman’s restaurant still exists today and continues to serve up the family’s original fried clams.

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