What is traditional chowder? The true or traditional chowder is a matter of debate. There are numerous varieties, and each has its loyal following. Just bring up the subject of chowder and most likely a debate will ensue as to which style is the true, authentic chowder. True chowder lovers delight in their pursuit of the perfect chowder, from creamy white to clear and briny to tomato based. Practically everyone claims their chowder is “award-winning." Chowder has its roots in the Latin word calderia, which originally meant a place for warming things, and later came to mean cooking pot. The word calderia also gave us cauldron, and in French became chaudiere. It is also thought to come from the old English word jowter (a fish peddler). A simple dish of chowder, in the past considered to be "poor man's food," has a history that is centuries old. Vegetables or fish stewed in a cauldron thus became known as chowder in English-speaking nations, a corruption of the name of the pot or kettle in which they were cooked. Different kinds of fish stews exist in almost every sea-bound country in the world. Fish chowders were the forerunners of clam chowder. The chowders originally made by the early settlers differed from other fish soups because they used salt pork and ship's biscuits. Today most chowders do not include biscuits, but generally have crackers sprinkled on top. The old-fashioned chowder builder made chowder out of just about everything that flew, swam, or grew in the garden. When the main ingredient is fish or shellfish it is usually called chowder although the term fish stew is also used. Clams, hard or soft, were just one variety of seafood used and were eaten frequently, but there was a certain season for clam chowder and certainly there were other occasions when clam chowder was definitely not served. Maine has a history of many making and tasting great chowder, due to the proximity of the Atlantic, and the many that depend on its resources to eat. Clam chowder is any of several chowders containing clams and broth. Along with the clams, diced potato is common, as are onions, which are occasionally sauteed in the drippings from salt pork. Celery is frequently used. Other vegetables are uncommon, but small carrot strips might occasionally be added, primarily for color. A garnish of parsley serves the same purpose. Bay leaves are also sometimes used as a garnish and flavoring. It is believed that clams were added to chowder because of their relative ease to collect. Clam chowder is often served in restaurants on Fridays in order to provide a seafood option for those who abstain from meat during Lent, which used to be a year-round requirement before liturgical changes in Vatican II. Though the period of strict abstinence from meat on Fridays was reduced to Lent the year-round tradition of serving Clam Chowder on Fridays remains. New England clam chowder is a milk or cream based chowder, that is traditionally made with potatoes, onion, bacon or salt pork, flour or hardtack, and clams. Adding tomatoes to clam chowder was shunned, to the point that a 1939 bill making tomatoes in clam chowder illegal was introduced in the Maine legislature. It is occasionally referred to as Boston Clam Chowder in the Midwest. The traditional New England chowder is made by layering crackers such as Crown Pilot with the other ingredients. Maine Clam Chowder Recipe 1 quart shucked clams (add water if too dry) 1/3 pound salt pork 1 large onion, minced 2 ribs celery, minced 2 large potatoes, diced 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1 quart of milk, scalded (may use half cream for thicker soup) 1/2 cup of butter 1/4 cup of flour Salt and pepper Drain and chop clams, reserving liquid (may substitute 5-pound can chopped clams). Fry salt pork in a heavy pan until all fat is rendered; add onions and celery and brown lightly. Add butter; melt. Blend in flour and stir constantly for 5 minutes. Add clams, potatoes, clam liquid, bay leaf, and thyme. Cook until the potatoes are tender. If desired, add fish and/or shellfish to make seafood chowder. Maine Fish Chowder Recipe Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method -------- ------------ -------------------------------- 2 Lb. fresh Haddock 2 Oz. salt pork -- diced 2 Medium onions -- sliced 1 C. chopped celery 4 Large potatoes -- diced 1 bay leaf -- crumbled 4 C. milk 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine 1 Tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Simmer haddock in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Drain off and reserve the broth. Remove the skin and bones from the fish. Saute the diced salt pork in a large pot until crisp. Remove salt pork and saute the onions in the pork fat until golden brown. Add fish, celery, potatoes and bay leaf. Measure reserved fish broth, plus enough boiling water, to make 3 cups liquid. Add to pot and simmer 30 minutes. Add milk and butter and simmer for an additional 5 minutes, or until well heated. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.