Dietribes: Ready to Chowder Down?


• According to the Oxford English Dictionary: Chowder comes from the French, chaudiere, meaning pot. "In the fishing villages of Brittany faire la chaudière means to supply a cauldron in which is cooked a mess of fish and biscuit with some savory condiments, a hodgepodge contributed by the fishermen themselves, each of whom in return receives his share of the prepared dish. The Breton fishermen probably carried the custom to Newfoundland, long famous for its chowder, whence it has spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England."

• Did Herman Melville coin the term Chowder-heads? In "Moby Dick" the term meant, literally, people who consumed a great deal of chowder (as opposed to, say, a dolt). Take for instance the line from chapter called, fittingly, Chowder, ''Chowder for breakfast, chowder for dinner, chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes.''
• Even though clam chowder is traditionally a dairy-based product, I'm not sure it works as an ice cream. Now a soup-flavored corn chowder puff, that's something to get behind.

• Biter Beware: chowder is considered so precious a tradition that even Supreme Court (well, of Massachusetts) got involved. The plaintiff? Miss Webster, a lady known to have choked on a fish bone. The original verdict? All restaurants must grind up the fish. Miss Webster was then awarded $1,800 for her troubles. The opposition's battle cry? "Save our world-renowned fish chowder from degenerating into an insipid broth!" Final verdict: The Massachusetts Supreme Court decided that to grind up chowder chunks would destroy "a hallowed tradition." Said the court: New Englanders "should be prepared to cope with the hazards of fish bones."

• Chowder has also been used as a prize in sporting wagers, such as the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets.

• What would a Dietribes post be without mention of an eating competition? In December 2009, Robert Shoudt of Philadelphia, ate more than 2.4 gallons of chowder to win the first officially sanctioned salmon chowder eating contest and claim the title of Slammin' Salmon Champion.

• Have a desire for more lycopene in your chowder? Then you're looking for the Manhattan variety, which substitutes tomatoes for milk.  However, this "blasphemous" alternation of the concoction lead to a 1939 bill in Maine making it illegal to add tomatoes to chowder (it didn't pass). In 1940 Eleanor Early lambasted the ''terrible pink mixture'' in her book, New England Sampler. Manhattan clam chowder, she wrote, ''is only a vegetable soup, and not to be confused with New England clam chowder, nor spoken of in the same breath.''

• With that in mind perhaps the less said about the clear Rhode Island Clam Chowder, the better.

• Growing up in the South I've never even had chowder (say it ain't so!). Which kind should I try? And do you guys (should I say youse guys?) make it, buy it, or pick it up for a meal?

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.