Warm Up with a Cup of Hot Chowder!


It’s the time of year where the leaves and the temperature plummet. We pull on sweaters, put away our grills, and look for our rakes. What better way to end a blustery day this fall than to come home to a steaming mug of chowder?

The name chowder is believed to be an altered pronunciation of the word for the cauldron in which it was made.

The name “chowder” is believed to be an altered pronunciation of the English word “cauldron” or the French “chaudiere” (also meaning “cauldron”) – the vessel in which chowder was once cooked. There is also the possibility that the term comes from “jowter” –  an Old English name for fish peddler. However its name came to be, chowder has quite a  history and has been being spooned out on American soil for hundreds of years. At one time known as poor person’s food, the soup has grown and branched out with our country. Today, chowder stands as a tasty illustration of the vibrant blend of cultures that makes us who we are as Americans1.

The Story of Chowder in America

The top of this map shows the areas in England and France along the coast of the English Chanel from which the word “chowder” arose.

The name for chowder appears to have originated in sixteenth century Europe around the French and British coasts of the English Channel. It was a custom for fishing towns in these areas to greet fishermen arriving home with a communal chaudiere to which each fisherman would contribute a portion of his catch1.

The concept of the soup that would be chowder arose in more than one place on the planet, and so Europeans arrived here with their chowder custom to meet Native Americans who were already making a form of the soup.2

The first chowders made here by the European settlers were fish chowders. These were distinguished from fish soup by the ship’s biscuits and salt pork that were added (today we typically see oyster crackers used in place of biscuits)1. The settlers did not like shellfish at first (and in the 1620’s were known to only feed them to their hogs), but eventually came to use clams and mussels in their chowder recipes as the Native Americans did2.

The Boston Evening Post published the first colonial chowder recipe.

Chowder was common in the colonies by the eighteenth century5. The earliest published colonial recipe for chowder, a fish chowder, was printed in the Boston Evening Post in 17513. The first published recipe for a chowder with clams was in a popular 1832 cookbook titled The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child1. By 1836, clam chowder was being cooked up at Ye Olde Union Oyster House – the oldest restaurant in the US that has continually been in business5. Chowder recipes of this period were made by layering sheets of various ingredients atop each other. Onions were added as they kept the pork in the chowder from getting burnt1.


Ye Olde Union Oyster House was selling chowder by 1836. The restaurant still exists.

As the United States expanded westward and eventually reached the Pacific coast, so did the practice of chowder making. Various places and cultural groups in our country have put their own spin on the soup over time, and most people have strong beliefs about what makes up an authentic chowder4. Following are a few versions of chowder that have arisen over the years.

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

The first American clam chowder was what we know today as New England4 or Boston8 clam chowder. Traditional New England clam chowder can be identified by its white broth which gets the color from whole milk, light cream, or heavy cream. Oyster crackers are commonly added to this type of chowder, whose only vegetables are oni0n and potato. Although New England clam chowder is now available nationwide, it is still sought the most in the northeastern part of the country4.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Also known as South County Style, this chowder uses the large quahog clam and is still the most popular chowder along Rhode Island’s coast8. Onions and potatoes are its only vegetables. The  broth, unlike that of New England clam chowder, is  clear owing to the lack of milk or cream. There is, however, a red form which contains tomato puree4.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Like Rhode Island chowder, Manhattan clam chowder (or Fulton Fish Market Clam Chowder8) has a thinner broth than does the New England variety.  Its most distinguishing characteristic is its red color, which comes from tomato paste and / or tomatoes in its broth. Manhattan chowder boasts a variety of vegetables such as garlic, celery, carrots, and onion4.

Despite its name, Manhattan clam chowder is not from Manhattan4. Fans of New England clam chowder gave this red chowder its name, as they considered any term involving New York to be derogatory in the early twentieth century. Proponents of traditional New England clam chowder at this time were passionate about their recipe, and outraged that someone would defile it with tomato. So put out were New Englanders over the addition of tomato to clam chowder that a bill arose in 1939 in the Maine government to outlaw it7!

The initial recipes for Manhattan clam chowder were probably developed by Portuguese and Italian immigrants to the U.S. A printed recipe for the chowder calling it Manhattan was first published in the 1934 cookbook Soups and Sauces by Virginia Elliot4.

Long Island Clam Chowder

Long Island Clam Chowder – a mixture of the New England and Manhattan varieties.

If you combine New England chowder and Manhattan chowder in equal amounts, the pink concoction that results is called Long Island clam chowder. The soup is given the name Long Island, as this place is between New England and Manhattan. Though Long Island chowder did not get its name by coming from Long Island, the chowder can now be found there. At a restaurant called The Chowder Bar, customers know this chowder type as a “half – and – half (Bolger, 2013)”. It basically is a cream of tomato soup with seafood in it, and has been rising in popularity9.

Cabo Clam Chowder

This is a unique chowder inspired by the Mexican style of cooking. Cabo clam chowder is made with chipotle for spiciness. Other ingredients include lime, cilantro, cumin, peppers, black beans, garlic, jalapenos, corn, and onion. Tortilla chips are frequently added once the chowder is done4.

New Jersey Clam Chowder

New Jersey clam chowder is distinguished by its inclusion of creamed asparagus. Also added into the  soup are bacon, tomatoes, celery powder, Old Bay spice, and parsley4.


Minorcan Clam Chowder

Minorcan Clam Chowder

Saint Augustine, Florida has a take on clam chowder called Minorcan. The name comes from a group of Spanish settlers who came to live in Florida from Spain’s Minorca Island4  – largely as indentured servants on Florida indigo plantations. These people originated the recipe10. The broth of Minorcan clam chowder contains tomato and also Datil pepper.  This pepper was introduced to Florida from Cuba centuries ago4, and has a “sweet – tart, citrusy hot(Authentic Florida, 2017)” flavor that lends the chowder a special taste4.

Hatteras Island Chowder

Little neck clams, the type of clam used in Hatteras clam chowder.

Clams in this chowder that hails from the Carolinas are usually of a small variety with a sweet taste called littleneck. This chowder, seasoned with salt and pepper4,, also contains onions, green onions, bacon, potatoes, clams, and sometimes hot sauce8.


Chowder on the Pacific Coast

Chowder is now also served in states on the Pacific coast. In Seattle,  Washington and Portland, Oregon, smoked salmon is  used in place of salt pork to lend chowder a distinctive flavor. Meanwhile, San Francisco is known for serving new England clam chowder in a bowl made of sourdough bread8.




Following are links to some of these clam chowder recipes, should  you like to try making them yourself.

New Jersey Clam Chowder

Cabo Clam Chowder

Hatteras Clam Chowder

Minorcan Clam Chowder

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

If you’re in a hurry, though, you can still enjoy home made chowder from Atlantic Seafood! We carry several chowders made from only the freshest of ingredients, including spicy crab corn chowder, shrimp corn chowder, New England clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder, and Rhode Island clam chowder among other soups.

Works Cited

1. Stradley, Linda. “History of Chowder”.
What’s Cooking America, whatscookingamerica.net/History/ChowderHistory.htm.
Retrieved 11 Oct. 2018.

2. Eating in America: A History, by Waverly Root and Richard de Rochemont, The Ecco Press, New York, 1976.

3. 50 Chowders: One Pot Meals – Clam, Corn and Beyond, Jasper White, Glenn Wolff, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2000.

4. Correa, Cynthia. “A Brief History of Clam Chowder”.
Eater, 31 Jan. 2018, www.eater.com/2016/1/31/10810568/clam-chowder-manhattan-hatteras-new-england-rhode-island-minorcan-new-jersey.

5. Savoring Gotham, by Andrew F. Smith, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2015.

6. New England Clam Chowder History.

What’s Cooking America. whatscookingamerica.net/History/Chowder/NewEnglandChowder.htm.
Retrieved 11 Oct. 2018.

7. Marshall, Jo. “History of Chowder”.
relish, 30 Aug. 2012, relish.com/articles/history-of-chowder/.

8. New Bedford Internet. “The History of Clam Chowder: A New England Tradition”.
Percy’s Place.com, 15 Nov. 2012, persysplace.com/the-history-of-clam-chowder-a-new-england-tradition/.

9. Bolger, Timothy. “Long Island Clam Chowder: Secret Blend Slowly Catching On”.
Long Island Press, 4 Sept. 2013, https://www.longislandpress.com/2013/09/04/long-island-clam-chowder-secret-blend-slowly-catching-on/.

10. Florida, Authentic. “Authentic Minorcan Clam Chowder”.
Authentic Florida: Celebrating Unique Treasures of the Sunshine State, 25 Feb. 2017, www..com/articles/what-to-eat/minorcan-clam-chowder/.


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