Long, long ago when I was not even the merest glint or gleam in the eye of any ancestor on my mother's side, the shores of some place new beckoned for something different to those that I am a part of so long ago. A new place to put down roots and explore, "set up shop" so to speak. Those same ancestors leaving England to escape persecution and settling in New England, siding with the King and then high-tailing it up to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, which has to explain my love of anything British forwarded to my own karmic existence these many centuries later. When things calmed down in the newly formed United States, they crept back down into Maine and Massachusetts and lived off the land and sea to sustain their livelihoods.
As a boy, we would fly from California to Boston and then drive up to my Aunt Doris' farm in Gorham, Maine for Summer and Winter vacations. One late Summer trip, my Uncle Bud and my Father drove over to the harbor in Portland, in that old two-tone green and rust truck, to bring home some Littleneck clams, chicken (1 pound) lobsters, as well as a behemoth of a specimen who's faded claw sits proudly on my bureau as a reminder of that trip that instilled a lifelong love affair with New England. It felt like I belonged somewhere, finally. How could I know this without really knowing the family ancestry yet? Was it the "common sense" lifestyle that I experienced on the farm? Wading through the little river in the "back forty" to gather wild blueberries with my Cousin John that were to be made into my Aunt's lusciously simple blueberry pie to be eaten after all of those lobsters? Or could it have been that clam chowder? Possibly. That same shoreline recipe brought down from those ancestors so long ago waking and stirring that hidden passion that said to me, "You'll come back. We know you will."
And I did. And I still make that clam chowder when I'm alone or for company, in the same pot that my Mother used. Ladeling the milky soup into her brown and cream English china bowl on top of a handful of crushed Milk Lunch Crackers like my Father taught me. Or, if I can't find those, then some simple crushed Oyster Crackers ready to thicken my culinary inheritance.
|Crackers and Bowls awaiting their chowder for my students|
New England Clam Chowder
4-5 cans Chopped Clams, drained and liquid reservedor 8 lbs. Quahog or Cherrystone Clams (large)*
2-8 oz. bottles Natural Clam Broth
4 oz. Salt Pork**, ¼” dice
2 Yellow Onions, medium; ¼” dice
6 Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes, small; peeled and cut into ½” slice
1 quart Light Cream
Salt, to taste
1 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground
2 Tbl. Butter, unsalted; softened
Cream, Milk Lunch (if you can find them) or Oyster Crackers, crushed
Preheat large soup or stock pot over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes and then add the salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium high, stirring occasionally so not to burn and cook until it is crisp. Remove salt pork and place on paper towels to drain, discard the fat portions.
Add the onion and potatoes into the pot, season with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are translucent, but not caramelized.
Add the clam juice, along with the reserved liquid from the canned clams. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes. If it doesn't, add enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes r about 10 minutes until they are soft on the outside and but slightly firm in the center. If it hasn't thickened a bit, smash some of them against the side of the pot and cook a minute or so longer to release the starch.
Turn the heat to low and add the clams, salt pork and cream. Add the pepper and salt to taste. Continue heating over low heat until all of the flavors have blended, about 2-3 minutes, taking care not to bring to a boil. For a slightly thicker Chowder, smash some of the potatoes against the insides of the pot with the back of a large spoon. Remove from heat and serve either in the pot or a tureen. Add butter and stir.
Place a handful of crushed crackers into the bottom of each bowl and ladle the chowder on top. Serve at once.
*Scrub clams clean. In a large pot, bring 2 Cups Water to a boil, add clams and cover, steaming for 2-3 minutes. Lift cover and stir with a large spoon. Replace cover and continue 2-3 more minutes for Littlenecks, 5-7 for Cherrystones or up to 10 or 12 minutes for larger Quahog Clams. Strain "liquor" through a fine sieve into a bowl, throwing away any unopened clams. Sieve again slowly so not to have any remnants of sand and reserve for the soup base to replace the bottle of clam juice. Chop clams for the chowder to your taste.
**May substitute Bacon for a smokier flavor.