New England Clam Chowder - a tradition.

New England Clam Chowder – a tradition.


Article & Photos By Jacqueline Bennett


It is as American as the Stars & Stripes, as patriotic as the national anthem, It is ‘Yankee Doodle in a kettle’.” Joseph C. Lincoln


I am a New England girl. When the air turns cold, the days grow shorter and leaves become hues of golden/russet then fall to the ground leaving soon-to-be snow covered branches bare, my thoughts go to the crackling of a fireplace, wool sweaters – and a glorious cup of New England Clam Chowder to warm me. On breezy, spring afternoons when shoreline restaurants begin their seasonal opening rituals, and on a summer’s day at the beach when the ocean air flows in with the tide, I look forward to wrapping myself in a favorite sweatshirt, strolling the boardwalks – and a glorious cup of New England Clam Chowder to make the moment complete.


Thursday, February 25, 2016 is National “New England” Clam Chowder Day – well, technically it’s National Clam Chowder Day – but in my world chowder isn’t chowder unless New England is part of the name. Simply and eloquently put, there is no improving on the words of Joseph C. Lincoln, who noted, wrote extensively about Cape Cod, and penned a grand ode to New England Clam Chowder describing it as “Yankee Doodle in a kettle”.


My first taste of this glorious New England tradition came as a toddler – a spoonful of my father’s while sitting on his lap at Ocean Beach in New London, combined with a nibble of the extraordinary clam fritters once served there. As I grew up, on family vacations I had my own cup of chowder at clam shacks at Old Orchard Beach in New Hampshire, or restaurants in Bar Harbor, Maine. New England Clam Chowder was a staple, a starter, at our large annual family picnics in July. In fact, I still brew up a batch when hosting outdoor get-togethers.


During my time as a student at the University of Connecticut, the New England Clam Chowder tradition carried on. It became a late afternoon meal of choice at the Windjammer in Westerly, R.I. on semester intermissions before heading home from “The Dunes” to Connecticut, and at restaurants scattered across Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where my friends and I rented summer cottages. It was en route to the Cape that I spotted the best-ever billboard advertisement for Bud Light – a bottle of Bud next to a bowl of the creamy, white stuff with the tagline “Chowdah Chaser”. Often coupled with a grilled raisin bran muffin, chowder was a favorite breaktime item for me when I was a coed at UConn waitressing at Kathy-John’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Shop in Storrs, CT.


I have enjoyed it too as a marvelous appetizer to dinner at the Black Cat in Hyannis, MA. and at the Coast Guard House Restaurant in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. When my sisters and I make our usual early summer sojourn to “Dad’s Restaurant” in Niantic, CT, New England Clam Chowder is on all of our minds!



The popularity of New England Clam Chowder at dining establishments can be traced back to 1836 when it was on the menu at “Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston”, according to Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ye Olde Union Oyster House is the nation’s oldest continuously operated restaurant and today still has New England Clam Chowder on the menu. Daniel Webster was known to have been a frequent patron here. A century after New England Clam Chowder is said to have first appeared on a menu, an attempt was made by the Maine state legislature to sanctify the purity of the recipe and literally make it illegal to put tomatoes in the chowder. I’m surprised a legislator in my home state of Connecticut, a.k.a., the “Blue Laws State” didn’t come up with such a proposal.


Although New England Clam Chowder can be prepared “Manhattan-style” with tomatoes or a tomato base, or in a clear broth served in parts of Rhode Island, for chowder traditionalists such as myself – New England Clam Chowder does not live up to the title unless it is presented in a thick, milky base chock full of freshly shucked tender clams accented by cooked potatoes cut to varying sizes, and seasoned to utter perfection with chopped onions and ground pepper. Add a few chowder crackers and that is the unmistakable flavor of New England.