"Chowder" from Moby-Dick
Chowder from Moby-Dick

Date: March 2, 2011

New England-style clam chowder certainly has a rich history. We like the way the early days of its evolution is brought to life by Herman Melville in a humorous passage from Moby-Dick. It starts with the sailor and narrator, Ishmael, and his bunkmate and harpooner Queequeg, visiting an unfamiliar inn and being met by the innkeeper, Mrs. Hussey:

Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said "Clam or Cod?"

"What's that about Cods, ma'am?" said I, with much politeness.

"Clam or Cod?" she repeated.

"A clam for supper, a cold clam, is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?" says I, "but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?"

But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple shirt who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word "clam", Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out "clam for two", disappeared.

"Queequeg," said I, "do you think that we can make a supper for both of us on one clam?"

However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.

Sounds pretty good, except perhaps for the 19th century hospitality. And with the cold days of winter still upon us, it's a great time to come in for a steaming bowl of The Fish Market's famous clam chowder.

View Archives