Often times when I make chowder, I’m standing next to my hot cast iron wood stove (on our Maine windjammer) stirring at least a couple of pots, turning bread baking in the oven and prepping yet another baked good slatted for a future meal. I think of how many pots of chowder have been made on wood stoves just like mine and the people these potages have nourished.
It’s a traditional meal that pulls musings of times past and almost demands the ritual of following in the footsteps of cooks that have gone before.
All sorts of chowder recipes abound in these parts, but most of them, while delicious, are not chowder in the book of old-time Mainers. True chowder is milky, not thick, and is slightly thickened with either day old biscuits or oyster crackers (or saltines), not a roux (a flour and butter mixture). In addition, true chowder contains salt pork, not bacon. Always. If either of these things are not in existence, then, I’ve been told, it’s not true Maine chowder, however yummy.
This recipe begins with the required salt pork, something fairly easy to come by in our local Maine butchers or even in the grocery store. This salted, but not smoked, pig belly is the backbone of flavor for every traditional chowder one might concoct. In addition, once the vegetables have sauteed and become soft, day-old biscuits are added – fairly early in the soup making process so they have ample time to soften and disintegrate, becoming indistinguishable and thickening the soup slightly.
Lastly, because I’m often making my chowder on the Riggin where I could be called away from the stove at any moment to drive the yawl boat, take the wheel, or tend to a guest, I use evaporated milk. Evaporated milk doesn’t separate nearly as easily as straight milk when the heat is on for too long. It’s a safety net for me and does add a bit of body and flavor to the soup as well.
Enjoy this nod to the food traditions of the past. Who knows, maybe one of your ancestors made chowder for their people.
Maine Seafood Chowder
6 ounces salt pork
2 cups diced celery; about 3 stalks
2 cups diced onion; about 1 large onion
6 cups potatoes, peeled if need and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 day old biscuits or 6 saltines
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups clam juice
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cans evaporated milk
1 pound haddock
1/4 pound 40-60 shrimp, shells removed and sliced in half
1 pound fresh clams, well-cleaned or 2 cups canned clams
Score the salt pork and place it scored side down in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. When the salt pork has rendered for 5 to 10 minutes, add the celery and the onions and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the biscuits, salt, pepper, clam juice and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the biscuits have disintegrated and the potatoes are cooked through. Add the evaporated milk and bring to a simmer again. Lastly add the seafood and just cook through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let the haddock finish cooking.
Serves 6 to 8
Headed off to make biscuits to go with AND into the chowder!
As I write this, the bees are quiet, not truly dormant, but somnolent and sleepy. Waiting. The hives are draped in black insulating plastic and surrounded by feet of snow and not a flower in sight.
But last summer, when the garden was in full flush and the blooms were abundant, the hive wisdom said to swarm. Make a second queen, split, and create another hive to add to their numbers.
To see a hive swarm is to be in the midst of what feels like a maelstrom. In truth, bees are as calm as they ever will be when they swarm. Topped off with honey, surrounding their new queen, and off on an adventure.
We’ve never been quick enough to rehive the swarms, but were lucky to capture this one leaving on film.
Thankful they didn’t all swarm! Their honey is fantastic.
A number of years ago, when the girls were small and bedtime was 8pm (for me and them), a friend of mine said something to me and I didn’t believe her. As I was holding my tired, tear-stained four year old on my hip, she said that when your kids get older, it’s just as intense as when they are small. She said that instead of clinging to your pant legs, they need you in a completely different way, but just as much. She said that her teenagers were just as time consuming and just as needing of her nurturing as when they were small.
I thought she had motherhood amnesia. You know, the syndrome that has a mother, who recently experienced labor, to be so awash in baby love that she wants another child. She forgets that this will require another labor.
Now that I have teenagers, I still think my friend forgot how intense mothering small children can be. So when I’m trying to figure out how and when all of us can have dinner together because one has play practice from 6 to 8pm and the other has a class that begins at 7pm and it turns out the only time we can all sit at the table together is at 5pm, I remember when they were small.
When at the end of the day, everyone was a little (or a lot) frayed at the edges and no one could really handle entertaining themselves. When having little people “help” with dinner meant starting at 4pm for a dinner at 6pm. When holding one in the sling and the other on the hip meant that I couldn’t chop a vegetable or make a salad. But if I set them down, the terror of the toddler would reign down on the household. Back then I wished I were an octopus.
Now I wish I could clone myself. I’d have one mom drive and the other make dinner. Since neither of those is likely, I’ll just stick with having a lot more free time in the day, serving dinner at the oddest of hours so that we can all sit face to face, and driving my teenagers to and fro with “car talk” to sustain me.
Dinner time – it’s important
We are so blessed that we get to sail with you all each summer. What is equally wonderful is how well-traveled (in addition to sailing on the Riggin) many of you are. We love to hear about and see photos of the varied parts of the globe you’ve adventured – especially while you are wearing your Riggin gear!
Many more happy travels to you and (and also returns to us on the Riggin)!
One of the many questions I get from folks in the cooking realm is what to do with all the veggies that come for their CSAs. Now that Community Supported Agriculture has taken parts of our country by storm, the questions keep coming. Among them are… What else can I do with my kale? How do I use up that ugly kohlrabi that keeps turning up in my box? Is there a way to combine all of these veggies in a meal or dish?
On our Maine Gourmet Food Cruises we talk about how to combine veggies, what to do to make them interesting, and how to preserve them if you just have too darn much to use in a week’s time.
Vegetable Tip: To keep lettuce and greens longer in the refrigerator, wash the lettuce and remove every bit of water that you can and then layer the leaves with a dish towel or paper towel. Store in a large tub with a lid or in a resealable plastic bag. I’ve used this technique on long, at sea adventures, on the Riggin and in my home kitchen to great effect. Another way to preserve hearty greens is to clean and dry them, ribs removed. Once they are dry, coat them in a thin layer of olive oil. They will last for at least a week and a half in the refrigerator.
Thinking about greens galore and our next Maine Food Cruise, July 6 to 9!