Celebrate National Clam Chowder Day!

The History of Clam Chowder

history of clam chowder

When it comes to the world of seafood cuisine, we’re happy as a clam this winter enjoying some savory and satisfying clam chowder. In fact, so many diners enjoy this dish worldwide that February 25th has been designated National Clam Chowder Day! For a fresh maritime dish that is such a staple in restaurants nationwide, it’s difficult to imagine a world without it. Whether you’re a fan of red or white, it’s time to dive in and learn the history of clam chowder before we enjoy our next cup. (Actually, let’s make it a bowl.)

From “Chaudiere” to “Chowder”

When seeking out the humble beginnings of the great clam chowder that we know today, our search brought us to the fishing villages along the coast of France. It is believed that members of these villages of the 16th century from Bordeaux to Brittany are responsible for the steaming dish that seafood lovers have grown to know so fondly.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origins of the word “chowder” to the French word “chaudiere”, meaning “boiler”. An alternate theory is that the phrase comes from the English word “jowter”, meaning “fish peddler”. It is believed that the French fishermen that originated this dish brought their version of clam chowder to Newfoundland, and was later spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and New England.

The Progression of Recipes

When it comes to clam chowder, it’s no surprise that there’s some regional dispute over which version of the dish is “best”. It is believed that the first ever published recipe including clams in chowder was released in 1832 and that in 1836 it was first served in a public restaurant. Clam chowder as we know it was first served at this date by Union Oyster House, the national oldest continuously operating restaurant located in Boston.

The origins of clam chowder come from a less specific seafood chowder created by settlers and fishing villages. In these recipes, it was common to find biscuits and salt pork to make the chowder thicker and more savory. In fact, the first ever fish chowder recipe publish is believed to be that released by the Boston Evening Post in 1751. This recipe was constructed of a layered stew, including fish, salt pork, hardtack, spices, pepper, water, red wine and herbs. It wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that clam chowder as we know it today began to rise to popularity.

Clam Chowder 101

Most chowder lovers wouldn’t guess that hardtack and salt pork were the original two main ingredients in this famous soup. Not surprisingly, these ingredients were replaced by potatoes and bacon as we entered the second half of the 19th century.

Though many regions now claim their own unique take on this classic concoction, there are two main types of clam chowder: New England and Manhattan. New England style chowder might be what first comes to mind when you hear those two magical words “clam chowder”. This thick chowder is made from clams, potatoes, onions, spices and milk or cream. The notable creamy texture is what sets New England clam chowder apart from other versions of the dish.

Manhattan style clam chowder uses tomatoes or tomato paste, giving it a red color, and contains vegetables like carrots, celery, onion and garlic. The difference between these two most prominent clam chowders has not gone unnoticed, to say the least. In fact, in 1929, the state of Maine actually introduced a bill that made it illegal to use tomatoes when making New England clam chowder!

The moral of this story is, whether you’re a fan of the classic white clam chowder or if you prefer red, National Clam Chowder Day gives us all a reason to celebrate. In fact, here at Timoti’s we have options to satisfy chowder fans of all kinds. Stop by one of our three locations to enjoy your favorite style of seafood chowder. Can’t get enough of our wild caught seafood dishes? Go ahead, make it a taste test and try them all!