Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Original Chowder.

Today I want to discuss chowder, for the very good reason that today is an anniversary of sorts for the famous New England fish soup/stew. On this day in 1751 the first known printed recipe for chowder appeared in the Boston Evening Post, and very poetical the recipe was too.

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.

I have been unable to check the source of this recipe myself, but the Oxford English Dictionary is reliable enough, I think – and it uses the poetical recipe as its first reference for the word chowder. The definition given by the OED for chowder is ‘In Newfoundland, New England, etc.: A dish made of fresh fish (esp. cod) or clams, stewed with slices of pork or bacon, onions, and biscuit. ‘Cider and champagne are sometimes added’ (Bartlett).

The OED proposes that the word ultimately derives from the Latin calderia, which meant ‘a place for warming things’ and later, ‘a cooking pot’ (or cauldron.) There is another etymological possibility for the word however, and one which I much prefer. It may derive from an old English word jowter (of various spellings) which originally meant a fish peddler before it extended to apply to other sorts of hawkers and dealers. The OED does not hazard a guess as to the etymology of the word jowter, but it seems to have referred particularly to the female of the species, and has been used since at least the sixteenth century.

If the poetical recipe above is not to your liking, here is an alternative from a century later. I look forward to the inevitable authenticity debate which will surely follow.

As this is the season for deep-sea fishing, and as the chowder is the favorite mode of preparing the fish thus caught, we give the following genuine recipe for making that celebrated Yankee dish, furnished by a correspondent of the New York Commercial Advertiser, who obtained it at the Massachusetts coast, from the most authentic source.
“Here let me tell you how to make a chowder:-
1st, Fry a large bit of well salted pork in the kettle over the fire. Fry it thoroughly.
2nd, Pour in a quantity of water, then put in the head and shoulders of a codfish and a fine, well-dressed haddock, both recently caught.
3rd, Put in three or four good Irish potatoes, and then boil them well together. An old fisherman generally puts in three or four onions.
4th, When they are about done, throw in a few of the largest Boston crackers, and then aplly the pepper and salt to suit your taste.
Such a dish, smoaking hot, placed before you after a long morning spent in the most exhilarating sport, will make you no longer envy the gods.
Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, [Maine] August 9, 1843

Quotation for the Day

Chowder breathes reassurance, it steams consolation.
Clementine Paddleford.


Kathy Walker said...

Great post! It was fun to see this original recipe...We love chowder. I shall serve it with poetry and wine!

SharleneT said...

Oh, nom, nom... I'm gonna try the first one... I love chowder and would like to be as authentic as possible... thanks for the research and for sharing... love your posts... come visit when you can...

The Old Foodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Kate and Sharlene - do let me know how your authentic chowders turn out!

Lapinbizarre said...

Love the poem - Sydney Smith a century before SS. The choice of herbs is interesting for the time period and location. Do you know of other fish recipes that use red wine? Seems an odd choice for what would otherwise be a very palatable chowder. Maybe Kate or Sharlene would report back on their result?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Lapinbizarre. Claret was quite commonly used with fish, especially, if I remember correctly, with cod. It does seem an odd choice nowadays, doesnt it? I do like the sound of the recipe though.

Anonymous said...

old foodie have you seen The New England Chowder Compendium @ the University of Massachusetts

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks! What a wonderful compendium!

Anonymous said...

It's easy to see the etymology of the word chowder from the French chaudière, a boiling pot. Breton fisherman introduced the term throughout eastern Canada in the 1700s and it spread thence to New England. The term chowder appeared first in North America, not England.