chowder house rules
B Y C O L L E E N T H O M P S O N
JUST saying the word “chowder” conjures up feelings of
blissful warmth and comfort. However you pronounce it —
chowdah or chowder — one thing on which home cooks
and chefs agree: chowder reflects the region you come from.
North Carolina chowder tradition is rooted in the Outer
Banks, where locals ladle the broth, bobbing with gently simmered
clams, over a slice of white bread at the bottom of the bowl. The
bread is a carry-over from one of chowder’s foundations, the addition
of ship’s biscuits, or hardtack, a type of hard bread, which allowed a
basic broth to be transformed to the filling and hearty meal we know
Chowder is said to be named after the cauldrons in which it was
originally prepared. French seafarers used these vessels, called chaudière,
to cook seafood soups and stews. Sea voyages lasted for months and
ships were stocked with food that wouldn’t spoil. The main form of
preservative was salting: salt beef, salt pork, salt fish and ship’s biscuit.
Soaking the hard bread and salted fish or meat produced a thick broth
we know as chowder.
Most food historians agree that the first chowders originated with
French and British fishermen off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada,
around the 1500s. Fishermen from Brittany, Normandy and the
Basque regions discovered the abundance of fish on the Grand Banks,
which led to a large-scale cod trade. From there, chowder spread to
the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces of
Canada, and down the coast to the New England
states. The oldest known recipe, recorded
in Jasper White’s book “50 Chowders,” was
published in the Boston Evening Post in 1751.
The recipe emphasized the importance of layering
all the ingredients — pork, fish and spices —
to which biscuits were added for thickening and
wine for soaking.
By the 1800s, chowder was a fixture along
the Northeastern United States. As dairy became
cheaper and more readily available, it became the
staple ingredient in chowder. Clams and shellfish
were always used because of their accessibility
and abundance up and down coastal regions.
Oyster crackers, which are still traditionally
crushed on top of chowder, eventually replaced
the hardtack biscuits. As the United States
expanded, acquiring the Louisiana Purchase in
1803 and admitting multiple new states through-out
the 1800s, chowder began to reflect regional
Because in Chouder there can be not turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thing,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme,
Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time.
WBM february 2019
Thus your Foundation laid,
you will be able
To raise a Chouder,
high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o’er the Same again,
You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.
Last a Bottle of Claret, with Water eno;
to smother ‘em,
You’ll have a Mess,
which some call Omnium gather ‘em.
Jasper White’s book “50 Chowders”