Tonight we had clam chowder. I don’t make Manhattan Clam Chowder, which is tomato-based, or New England Clam Chowder, which is creamy. Rather, my family has always made Rhode Island Clam Chowder, also called “pink chowder.” That’s because it has both tomatoes and cream. My parents and my brother grew up on it in Rhode Island, and every once in a while when I was a kid, my dad would make chowder and clam cakes, based on the recipes in Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook. He would shuck the clams himself! It was delicious, and I could eat a zillion clam cakes with it.
The Boston Cooking School Cookbook was originally published in 1896. My mom received a Fanny Farmer cookbook when she got married in 1944, and when David’s grandmother died in 1984, I inherited her 1924 edition. Here it is, in all its glory, with her handwritten recipes attached with straight pins. We had it covered so that it wouldn’t fall to pieces immediately. Chicken recipes start with how to pluck the bird. There are no exact oven temperatures, but it says things like “a hot oven” or “a medium oven,” and it tells you how to arrange the damper of the oven to get the right temperature. It has a recipe for every single classic dish you’ve ever heard of, and it assumes that every good housewife wants her table to be perfectly correct.
In the decades since my dad shucked clams, we’ve all played with the recipe a bit, starting with canned clams and canned tomatoes. Now it’s not an all-day event. The original recipe calls for salt pork to start, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever bought salt pork. I suppose I could ask for it at Whole Foods, but I might get some odd looks. My brother, though, tries to stick to the recipe as faithfully as possible, and he won “Best in Show” at a clam chowder cook-off at my sister’s church. It even beat the parish priest’s recipe, which was based on Bloody Mary mix, something that he probably had around the house. My mother skips the salt pork now, too, and uses margarine instead. (*shudder*) I use sausage—plain ol’ Jimmy Dean regular pork sausage. It tastes fabulous, and I call it Lowcountry Chowder. My Yankee forebears are spinning in their graves.
Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed with diabetes, potatoes became a forbidden food. I’ve learned to use rutabagas in almost all places that call for potatoes, so I’m OK with that. I once read that a chowder was a soup with potatoes, so I’m not sure that my chowder is legal, but we won’t tell the food police. I also lost the crackers that are used to thicken it, and when I first started experimenting with low-carb recipes, I read that you could use xanthan gum to thicken soups. Not a happy outcome. Michael still reminisces, “Remember when you used to make your clam chowder all slimy? That was so gross.” (See, the important things stick with them.) Now I just have thinner chowder. Every once in a while, Michael will get in the kitchen and whip up a batch of potatoes-and-crackers clam chowder, and David dives right in, although he tries not to let me see. Of course, Michael does use Jimmy Dean sausage in his chowder like his mama, since he’s a good Southern boy.