Chowder

The past couple of days have brought another new experience for us. Our daughter in Japan has been sending us photos and videos of our grandson playing in the snow. It is a delight to see him all bundled up - so much that when he laid down in the snow, he had trouble getting up because of all of the layers of clothes. He really is enjoying the snow, but only has energy for being out in the weather in short bursts. After a few minutes the cold on his cheeks gets to him or he takes off a mitten and plunges a bare hand into the snow or a blast of winter wind makes him ready to go back inside the house to warm up.

A friend in Virginia posted pictures of the winter storm raging on the East Coast. His slow motion video of giant snowflakes falling and adding to the accumulation in their back yard was beautiful, but blizzard warnings are out in 14 states, affecting 60 million people. New York City is forecast to get more snow in this single storm than they got in all of last winter. Parts of Pennsylvania could see two feet of the white stuff.

That’s not the new experience. We’ve seen winter before. What is new is living in a place where “winter” isn’t like that at all. Our next door neighbor mowed their lawn yesterday.

To be fair, our former home, in South Dakota, has been free from snow with the high temperatures reaching into the forties during the day. Were we still living there we would still be experiencing snow-free weather while friends and family sent us pictures of the snowfall in their areas. And we had at least two storms with significant snowfall there in the fall before we moved. During one of the storms the man who purchased our snowblower graciously came over to our house and cleared the driveway and deck of snow.

We won’t be needing that snowblower this winter.

Thinking of blizzards and snowstorms got me to thinking about winter foods. Somehow we got to remembering and talking about winter camping trips. When I was growing up we would have occasional picnics during the winter. Sometimes we’d have one in conjunction with our family’s hunt for a Christmas tree. Other years, we had a camping adventure between Christmas and New Year’s. One of the staple meals for a family winter picnic was chili and hot chocolate, prepared in advance and then warmed up on our two burner Coleman white gas stove. I remember that chili as being so good. I don’t think it was anything special and, in our family, I doubt that it was very spicy. It was probably filled with lots of ground meat, often deer or antelope burger.

We also had some pretty hearty stews in my growing up years. It seemed that there was nearly always a few packages of stew meat in our freezer. Most of our meat was obtained locally, either from hunting or from purchasing animals at the fair in the fall. The freezer was well stocked by the time the harshest winter weather set in.

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The talk and thoughts of winter soups and stews inspired me to explore a bit of the local cuisine as I prepared our dinner last night. We have enjoyed steaming hot bowls of chowder on several occasions in the past, but it wasn’t one of the soups of my childhood home. I decided that since we now live in an area where there are plenty of clams, it is time for me to learn how to make chowder. We didn’t got the step of harvesting our own clams. I know nothing of coastal fishing and shellfish gathering regulations or processes. There will be time to learn those things in the future. Our local market has a supply of fresh clams available and I even avoided some of the work by purchasing clam meat that was already cooked and removed from the shells. Nonetheless I felt pretty good about the soup I was making because the recipe I found called for canned clams and I was able to use fresh.

Seafood chowders go way back in history. It is possible that clam chowder was on the menu for the thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. They probably didn’t have milk or butter, but they could have made a hearty chowder with vegetable or meat broth. It is believed that clams were used in chowder because of the relative ease of harvesting them.

The recipe I used was a rich broth made of milk and butter and cream, thickened with just a bit of flour. It contained potatoes and onions and a bit of garlic and thyme along with salt and pepper for seasoning. I diced and fried four strips of bacon and we garnished our bowls of soup with bacon and parsley. The result was a tasty soup that was very easy to prepare. Next time I think I’ll add a bit of celery, but I was pleased with the result and the pot of soup I made yielded a enough for leftovers for the next couple of days. I’m pretty sure that saltines or oyster crackers are traditional, but I served the chowder with some rolls and a bit more butter. I don’t think it was a low fat meal, but we’ve been walking quite a bit each day and indulging from time to time doesn’t seem to be out of line.

I don’t expect this move to yield a major change in our diet. We are fairly set in our ways and when I’m a bit tired it is easier to go to recipes that we’ve tried before and that I keep in my head instead of having to look up and find ingredients for something new. The foods we like, even buffalo meat, are readily available in the local stores. We do, however, love seafood and there is a fresh seafood market in our town that has food fresh off of the boats that fish the Puget Sound.

I’m pretty sure that my fake New England accent wouldn’t fool anyone. I hope, however, that I can perfect a chowder recipe that would delight a person who had grown up near the coast. I’m sure we’ll be having more chowder in the future.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!