Friday, October 2, 2009

Chowder and Clam Cakes

I made clam chowder the other evening, I do not call it New England Clam Chowder. I grew up in New England and the yummy, rich white stuff I created has no resemblance to what I ate as a kid.

My first memories of clam chowder (with clam cakes, of course) were fire station fund raisers. It always seemed to be a chilly and breezy day in the fall. The local volunteer force would set out a few picnic tables, create giant vats of chowder and fry up some clam cakes. The chowder was clear with salt pork, potatoes, quahogs (hard shell clams), onions and a few chunks of tomato here and there. It was not Manhattan style with a tomato base. It was brothy and not a drop of cream went into it. It was what they now call Rhode Island style clam chowder, except that in certain places in Rhode Island people would be up in arms at there being any tomato in it whatsoever. It had simple clear flavors and was just the right thing on a brisk fall day.

Ordering chowder in the area these days, you can run into almost anything. The different immigrant groups each come in and put their own spin on it. Since I believe that all food is fusion food (no culture is pure), I think it is great, as long as someone in the crowd keeps on making it the old simple way. I have had chowder done with spicy sausage instead of salt pork in a restaurant run by a Portuguese family, it was good. I have had it with Italian style seasonings, it was good also. These variations keep it current and keep it alive, some folks would say the old style is too bland, but it all depends upon your expectations when you sit down at the table.

The clam cakes are another story, crisply fried batter balls with bits of clams and lots of salt, a golden brown fritter, so hot that you would burn your tongue on the first few. Recently, when ordering clam cakes the clams seem to be barely present, but in the past the concentration was greater. These were the real treat. These were why I put my jacket and Keds on quickly and hopped into the VW bus without the least whine.

Since I am living in Florida and I have never seen clam cakes any farther than a few minutes out of the Rhode Island/ Massachusetts zone, I’m on my own here. I have not tried to make clam cakes at home, yet.

As soon I get myself equipped properly for deep frying, I will give them a go and post my results.

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