by Terry Retter
Although clam chowder is known to be a popular legendary recipe that has emerged a number of remarkable chowder recipes today, there probably is no one who knows exactly who made the first chowder dish.
Chowder originally came from the Latin word “calderia”, which means a place for warming things. History says chowder is “a poor man’s food” made of fish and vegetables stewed in a “cauldron”, or cooking pot. It was the English-speaking nations who first called the fish stew as Chowder, or broth, which was the beginning of different kinds of fish stews.
Over time, when a group of Briton fishermen from Newfoundland migrated to New England inspired soups using salted pork and ship’s biscuits, or saltine crackers thickened with flour and milk, the celebration of creamy varieties of chowder began. They would combine their daily catches with ready-made ingredients and cook them in large soup pots to cook chowder or fish stew, to feed themselves and their families.
It was said that these fishing villages were two regions located across the English Channel. When the fishermen returned from the sea, each village would prepare a big chaudiere, the French name for cauldron, then every man would share a catch, which will be served afterward as part of the community’s welcoming gala.
Clams at that time were considered as delicious seafood and were only used for clam chowder on favorable gatherings. But for the Northeastern Indians along the Atlantic coast, clams and oysters were already consumed in large amounts during special occasions, along with the popular fish chowder. As clam chowder started to be recognized everywhere, the recipe began to be served commercially. Large amounts of milk and cream started to be added to the dish to give clam chowder its look, taste and texture that we know today.
Even though the most popular recipe is still the original New England Clam Chowder, its popularity continued to create new wonderful varieties. Manhattan chowder, also known as Coney Island Chowder, is among the people’s favorite. If you love thick and creamy chowder with potatoes, the coast of Massachusetts is the place. Among the unique variety is Fulton Fish Market Chowder, a tomato-rich chowder, or Rhode Island Chowder, made of a clear broth but not with clams but with codfish.
Isn’t is amazing how an old peasant meal from fish and vegetable stew can create a number of new wonderful recipes today? Why not make your own clam chowder to make a share of this great history? I always use fresh clams for my clam chowder, and with potatoes in a cheesy creaminess, who wouldn’t salivate?
Today, New England Clam Chowder is even more exciting. If you’re in a chowder restaurant and you would ask for the most genuine recipe, it could create questions as to which style is real. But if you’re a clam chowder lover, whatever style is there, you will always love any of the creamy white to clear and salty to tomato-based and cheesy chowders, you name it.
Even though no one can exactly tell who made the first chowder, the original creations are still thought to do better than the most inimitable modern ones. But the enriching taste of crackers exclusively made for the chowder dish is perhaps another attraction that makes modern chowders more inviting.
For one good reason that New England Clam Chowder Day is celebrated every January 21st as the anniversary of the sorts of soups from one legendary fish stew, I think it is one real thing about New England Clam Chowder history that’s pretty much appreciated.
Have a clam-filled New England Clam Chowder Day!