Volume 3 Issue 8
October, 2000
          Nantucket Clam Chowder

happy as a clam...

     I remember a Thanksgiving on Nantucket.  The thirty mile ferry ride out from Hyannis, Cape Cod, in stark contrast from  the hustle of summer's tourist trade, is almost empty. Passengers spend the entire two hour trip inside but for quick trips on deck to check out  the roughness of the seas and the wind chill factor. At that time of year the population dropped to about 1500 people. There are no leaves left on the trees and you can feel winter at your heels. The bells on the buoys in the harbor resound eerily since they have no competition.

     Yet, being on that island , at that time of year seemed just right. In tune with the change of seasons, the island stood as witness to summer's care free  frivolousness and winter's harsh wake-up call.

     The family would arrive in drips and drabs from the mainland. When I arrived I saw my mother had already done alot of shopping and was on the phone to brothers not yet there to make sure they bought this or that before they got on the boat. You still couldn't get just anything at the Cumberland Farms mini store. You still had to be prepared to haul alot of stuff from the mainland. 

     Something was always cooking.

     There would be alot more than turkey. Once the troops had arrived, reminisced, played some cribbage and before going to bed, we would determine the tides and that would determine what time we needed to rise the next day. It was work, fun and a mission.

     At five AM, we would pile into my brother in laws truck and it was freezing. he would drop about half of us off at Madiket Harbor where there were fields of eel grass left uncovered by the ebbing tide. There were rows and rows of muddy trenches with the grass shooting down the center and at the roots of the grass clung  all the mussels you could want. They were a bit different from the dark, black ones that clung in bunches to rocks on the jetties. These were in the mud at the root of the stalk of grass. It was dirty and usually bitter cold.

     The rest of the crew would drive through he dunes to Eel Point. Here we'd take our inner tubes with a clam basket hanging through the hole and our clam rakes and spread out into the icy island waters. But the treasure so readily available made it worth it. Digging down with your toes you could feel a clam and then start raking. The hardness and perfection of their shells never ceased to amaze me. We would collect tens of dozens and dozens.

     Meanwhile, back in the grass, certain members of the party washing off the mud in the water would reach down and nick a few blue eyed scallops, their diamond shaped eyes all around the rim of the shell and the younger kids laughing and screaming at the scallops closing on their fingers and just hanging on, no pain at all. A special treat for later!

     It was usually a four hour affair and we'd head home. The largest clams were separated out and put aside for a chowder to be made that evening.
Those little crackers that are always served is not just someones wild whimsy but a remnant of "ship's bisquits" as Melville called them. Potatoes came later and the thickening agent for the chowder was stale bisquits or crackers. Let's not even get started with the version having tomatoes in it, the boosters of regional culinary  integrity may go on the warpath.


1/2 C bacon or salt pork
1 C diced onion
2 cups diced potato instead of ship's bisquits
3 C milk
24 large clams/ steamed open/BROTH RESERVED
1/2 stick butter
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Steam open the clams and keep the liquid, too.
2. Saute bacon add onions
3. Add potatoes and clam liquid and milk /cook until potatoes are done
4. Add clams in shell
5. Finish with butter and salt and pepper