Every few minutes the fisherman raises his hooks, pulls off the clams, throws them into his boat, and so continues until he has a boatload. This boatload is then taken to shore and scooped out upon a platform ready for the steaming vat, which is a long wooden box with a sheet iron bottom placed on a furnace of bricks or stone.
From the platform the living clams are scooped into the steaming vat, in which is a few inches of water. When filled, the vat is closed with a wooden cover and the fire underneath started. The steaming process kills the clams, causing the shells to open and making the meat separate easily. When the steaming has been sufficiently prolonged a popping sound is heard within the covered vat caused by the sudden bursting open of the shells. They are then done and ready to be taken out. Care is taken not to carry the steaming too long, for too much heat destroys the luster of the pearls.
Value of the Shells.
The empty shells themselves have a commercial value, ranging from $3 to $12 a ton, according to the kind, for different kinds make different quantities and qualities of buttons. Besides using them for buttons, the inferior grades and refuse are sold for fertilizer, and ground into poultry feed. One man near St. Francisville, where the photographs were taken, buys the shells by the carload and burns them on his land to enrich the soil. There is a button factory at this place which consumes many, and in turn sells the refuse shells after the buttons have been bored out. All not needed locally find a ready market at distant points, where they are made into buttons and other articles. The meat, after sorting, is fed to hogs, upon which, together with some grain, they thrive well.