All About Clam Chowder

All About Clam Chowder

The Chowder Debate: Thick or Thin?

We make Mac’s New England Clam “Chowda” the old fashioned way, filled with clams, not flour. Yes, flour makes it thick but we’d rather use hearty ingredients like potatoes and leeks to add heft to the soup – and keep it gluten free.

Fun Facts
  • Early French and English settlers crafted chowder from ingredients found nearby – milk and butter from the family cow, potatoes and onions from the garden, and clams dug from the local flats. It’s the ultimate farm to table meal!
  • The origin of the word “chowder” may come from the Latin calderia or French chaudière (cooking pot or cauldron). A less likely (but more fun) root may spring from the old English word jowter or “fish peddler.”
  • Chowder showed up on a restaurant menu for the first time in 1836 at the Union Oyster House in Boston. JFK was a noted fan. There is a memorial at his favorite booth to this day. .
Recipe in a Rhyme?

The Boston Evening Post published a very poetic version of the first know chowder recipe on September 23, 1751:

Directions for Making a Chouder
First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning,
Because in Chouder there can be no turning;
Then lay some Pork in Slices very thin,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory and Thyme;
Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o’re the Same again,
You may make Chouder for a thousand Men.
Last Bottle of Claret, with Water eno’ to smother ’em,
You’ll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather ’em.

The Cape Cod Times recently dug up more chowder-inspired verses, composed by a local Cape resident around 1910. Mac weighed in on the merits of the recipe:

The ultimate Cape Cod clam chowder recipe? Old poem may hold the key
Eric Williams, Cape Cod Times
February 4, 2024

As the main cook in my family, I am always seeking new ways to satisfy the ravenous throng that shows up at the dinner table. Usually, they bang their utensils together and yell “where’s the food,” and sometimes they play baseball with breadsticks and olives. Things can get ugly if service is slow, and even uglier if the meal is a dud.

One of these ruffians, I mean beloved family members, recently popped a note into my suggestion box that said “why don’t we ever have chowder?” Thus began a quest to find the best and most authentic Cape Cod clam chowder recipe in the world.

If this was a movie, the montage would show me sifting through cookbooks, then walking the low tide flats of Wellfleet, asking clams how they like to be prepared. The eureka moment would come when I stumble upon a peculiar poem in the Sturgis Library digital newspaper archive.

The headline in this 1940 Barnstable Patriot story was “Old Clam Chowder Recipe In Rhyme,” and added this description: “The following recipe-in-rhyme for real old Cape Cod Clam Chowder was composed by Mrs. Melissa Hamblin of Centerville more than 30 years ago and read to her by a group of old schoolmates who gathered at her home.”

That means the recipe is circa 1910 (or earlier), and without further ado, here it is:

You’ll want one peck of clams in their shell,

If a good chowder your cook would make,
I would recommend that first she take
A piece of salt pork that’s fat and sound,
In its size or weight have half a pound.
A pint of onions I think she’ll need,

Chopped about the size of some small seed.
Of ‘taters two quarts cut up in thin slices,
With pepper and salt but no spices;
You’ll want one peck of clams in their shell,
Look careful over and wash them well,

Then open the same and chop very fine,
It will take your patience and lots of time.
The pork and onions now crisply fry,
Have a large iron pot quite handily by,
Put in fat and onions with a little water,

They will cook in five minutes, at least they oughter,
Add potatoes, boil soft, then clams lightly pile,
Fill the pot with hot water, then sweetly smile.
Now place the kettle on a brisk fire,
Boil it quite lively, watch it Maria,

With a little cold water and flour make a paste,\
Add three pints of hot milk, you must now make haste,

For the people are waiting to hear the bell ring,
Pass round the Clam Chowder…’tis fit for a king.

Inspired, but uncertain, I reached out to Mac Hay, chef, seafood sage and owner of several Cape restaurants and fish markets. I knew this would get his gears spinning, and sure enough, he emailed me back within minutes! Here’s what he wrote:

“I could dissect every line, but, generally, it is spot on. A few processes need some clarification, but in a general sense, that’s all a chowder is … clams, potatoes, onions, milk (dairy), and fat. Our chowder doesn’t use pork or flour, but that was a staple for so long and still is in many chowders. The thing is, if you did follow this recipe, it would be very VERY ‘liquidy,’ like watery chowder. Some think chowder is supposed to be so thick a spoon can stand up in it. That is just more flour. The starch from the potatoes will help to ‘thicken’ the stock, but not much. I think you should give it a try!”

And so a chowder challenge looms for this very average cook. I just have to figure out what the heck a peck is.

What do you think?

Try Mac’s Clam Chowder for yourself and let us know. You can pick up a bowl or cup at Mac’s Seafood Restaurants or Seafood Markets, and it’s available to ship from our Online Shop.

Based on some feedback, we think we have a winner!

  • The best gluten free chowder! The best chowder Period! Flour is not really included in many of the true old timers’ recipes anyway. – Paulette L.
  • The best chowder on the planet. – Jonathan S.
  • It’s always delicious! – Carol B.
  • My favorite chowder! – Janice C.
  • It’s THE BEST!!! My mouth is watering! – Dawn Y.