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A New England Symbol: Frying the Clam

Woodmans 1916 Invented Fried Clams
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.

The frying of the very first clam has been hotly contested. On July 3, 1916, in Essex, Massachusetts, Lawrence, known as “Chubby," and Bessie Woodman came up with the corn meal recipe and the method they still use to fry clams today at Woodman’s of Essex. This invention won them credit with Boston newspapers for frying the first clam.


Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman with Clams
Courtesy of Woodman's of Essex.
Bessie Woodman Outside Store
Courtesy of Woodman's of Essex.

“This is a story of my grandfather and my grandmother. This is gramps sitting in front of the restaurant which was Woodman's, over here. This is my grandmother standing in front of the same place. He was twenty years old and he used to drive the electric cars. And the guy who had the last run at night, used to drink a lot of alcohol, and he put a dent in it and my grandfather had the first run the next morning.

Len Woodman

And the other guy had been working for a long time, so he blamed my grandfather. He quit and he had a newborn baby (which was my dad) and no job. And he went down, and there was a man by the name of Fred Tarr, who owned a place on the causeway. So my grandfather started working there. He put a big vat with fat in it, and he used to sell French fries on the side of the road because in 1911, '12, '13 , in that area, automobiles were starting to come in and people were out going for drives.

So Fred Tarr told my grandfather to go clamming  and he could make some money. So he went clamming. The first day he went he got three bushels, and within two weeks he was digging six bushels every day, plus he was running the store. And they were sitting around selling these French fries and clams in the shell and so forth. So they’re sitting around at high tide talking, and they say, you know, we ought to try frying a clam! So then my grandmother came along, saw what they were doing, and said ‘how can we make this better?’ And she experimented. I believe she told me that she tried flour first and it wasn’t very tasty, and then she had made corn fritters, which is you take corn meal and make a moist ball out of it and fry it. So she had done that before, so she tried corn meal, she put it in some milk, put it in the corn meal, dropped it in, and lo and behold these guys thought they were pretty good. So on the third of July in 1916 when gramps started selling clams out in front of what’s now Woodman's, he became known as the man that invented the fried clam. But he never claimed that he invented the fried clam, he just said that it happened the way I told you the story.- Len Woodman

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A New England Symbol: Frying the Clam