The first cookbook published in America was called – take a deep breath! – American Cookery or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables and The Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted at This Country and All Grades of Life.
OK, you can exhale now. It was written by Amelia Simmons, and the 1st edition that came out in 1796, did not contain any soup recipes. However, a chowder was not really considered a soup, but rather a stew. Nonetheless, in the 2nd edition, in 1800, she did include it, and so we now have the very first American chowder recipe:
Chouder – Take a bass weighing four pounds, boil half an hour; take six slices raw salt pork, fry them till the lard is nearly extracted, one dozen crackers soaked in cold water five minutes; put the bass into the lard, also the pieces of pork and crackers, cover close, and fry for 20 minutes; serve with potatoes, pickles, apple-sauce or mangoes; garnish with green parsley.” (whatscookingamerica.net)
But wait a minute, this is not the first! What about this little poem published in the Boston Evening Post in 1751:
First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning
Because in Chouder there can be not turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thing,
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’er the Same again,
You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.
Last a Bottle of Claret, with Water eno; to smother ’em,
You’ll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather ’em. (ibid.)
Other than seasoning, characteristic to 18th century American cooking, the two recipes are strikingly similar and just as strikingly different from the chowder as we know it today. Fish with pork or in pork lard?! They did have some strange ideas, didn’t they!
Actually, chowder goes back to the Latin word calderia, which originally meant a place for warming things up, and gradually changed its meaning to a big cooking pot, a cauldron.
I love Harry Potter – just had to stick this in! Remember, they used cauldrons in the Potions class? In French, cauldron became chaudiere. Chowder was “a pour man’s food, ” and fish peddlers in 16th – 17th century England had huge steaming chaudieres with fish stew, sold very cheap. Corrupting the French word, both they and their cauldrons were called jowters. And according to The Oxford English Dictionary, fishing villages on both sides of the English Channel had a large chaudiere waiting for the ships to return from the sea, and a portion of each man’s catch was contributed to it, to be served later as part of the community’s welcoming celebration.
The first European settlers on American soil brought with them the comforting memory of this hearty soup/stew, thick with crackers or biscuits crumbled on top. Native Americans introduced them to clams, which they scathingly called “the least blessed of G-d’s creations,” and maiz, or corn. The latter seemed like a good idea, it took hold and became popular, and corn chowder was born.
As a tweak on a traditional heavily potato-based recipe, I use sweet potatoes, to reduce carbs and hypoglycemic content. I also add grated carrots, minced celery, onion, and garlic, and a whole lot of cilantro. And, or course, corn.
You start by boiling sweet potatoes until they are really falling apart. That helps to thicken the chowder. Meanwhile, you can grate your carrot, mince celery, onion, and garlic, and chop cilantro.
Fish boiled potatoes out of the pot and throw the rest of the ingredients, except cilantro, into the liquid. Mash potatoes to a creamy mass and add it to the pot. You’ll have to add water almost to two quarts, leaving room for cream. Now you have to stir it well and bring it to boil.
Once it’s boiling, add soup powder and cream. As I am trying to be dairy-free, I use pareve non-dairy cream, but soy or coconut cream, as well as real dairy cream could also work. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon, and add cilantro, together with stems.
Reduce heat to the lowest setting and let it simmer, the longer, the better. I sometimes let it cook in the crock pot all day. If you cook it stove top, though, make sure to stir it from time to time, to prevent corn from sticking to the bottom.
It might be a “poor man’s soup,” but it’s thick, creamy, sweet and savory, and very satisfying. The hungry cat in the background is actually a dinner bell by a renown ceramic artist Tatiana Lombrozo.
- 2 medium size sweet potatoes, boiled
- 1 medium size carrot, grated
- 1/2 onion, minced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- Large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 heaping tablespoon soup powder
- 1/2 cup cream of choice
- A pinch of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel, quarter, and boil potatoes until very soft.
- Grate carrot, mince celery, onion, and garlic. Chop cilantro with stems.
- Remove potatoes. Place carrot, celery, onion, and garlic into liquid in which potatoes had been cooked.
- Mash potatoes to creamy consistency, add to pot. Add water almost to 2 quarts. Stir and bring to boil.
- Add soup powder and cream. Season with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Add cilantro. Stir well, bring to boil again, reduce heat to simmer or transfer to crock pot. Simmer for at least 30 minutes stovetop, for 3 – 4 hours in a crock pot. Serve with crackers or croutons.