Good morning, Everyone.
Come on in from the February cold. How’s your coffee?
Soups are the best solution to the “what do you want to eat?” conundrum. Every year, my husband Matt and I host a Chowda’ Cook-Off at the Sayville Yacht Club. Crock pots filled with a favorite variety of Manhatten, New England and Free Styled chowders are sipped, judged and devoured. Winners come away with a prize and bragging rights. Over the years the competition has become a mainstay in the winter season line up.
Most years, I do not cook a pot. There is too much to do with organizing, setting up a judging panel, and being the hostess. But this year, I decided to add my pot to the pool. I am submitting Grandma’s Chowder–a dish I usually cook in the summer. My father’s mom was an amazing home cook. She could create culinary masterpieces out of the meagerest ingredients. Her house always smelled warm and inviting from whatever was on the stove or in the oven.
“I learned to cook from watching my mother,” she claimed. I believe she loved everything about cooking, from shopping to fussing over procedure and improvising. It all culminated with sharing her meals with those she loved. She had a hearty laugh, and kind words dolloped with saged advice.
Grandma did not measure ingredients. She went by palm and pinch size, smell, and taste. She did not have a recipe file or notes scribbled in her favorite cookbooks. One had to watch and listen. Clam chowder was on the menu during the summer. Grandma cooked it for the Family Picnic every year. Since we lived nearby beds of clams from the Great South Bay, she relied on a grandchild or two to deliver freshly shucked cherrystone clams.
The first summer without her, I volunteered to cook the chowder. I found the list of ingredients and her secret tips I had scribbled during one of her watch and learn sessions. I concocted a big pot. It smelled like Grandma’s. Everyone agreed it tasted just like Grandma’s. I have been the chowder cook for the Family Picnic ever since.
Every year my family and extended relations claim my chowder tastes just like Grandma’s. But it isn’t. Like everything else in life, things evolve. I adapted and substituted ingredients and no longer follow the procedures in order since I am not sure what they are anymore. I add my pesto and roasted garlic, use the juice from the clams rather than the bottled juice. There are canned diced tomatoes in my chowder. I leave out string beans and corn, but saute the potatoes, fennel, onion, and zucchini in the bacon fat before adding the broth. I also cook my chowder in a crockpot rather than the big Faberware stock pot, for travel convenience sake.
Right now, Grandma’s chowder is bubbling in the crockpot. My house smells like Grandma’s kitchen. I pound the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot, as she did. A heel of bread that was carelessly left on the counter this morning became the dipper bread to ensure I have the flavors right. Cooking Grandma’s chowder brings her back to me. Grandma’s chowder may not win any accolades today, but it brought me joy to cook and share.
Thank you for reading my sentimental journey, today.
Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.