The origin of this world favorite dish may be in question. Like the New York Giants and Jets, who are in reality NFL teams that play in New Jersey, Manhattan Clam Chowder may have been stolen from the Garden State by those New York City rascals as well.

Prior to refrigeration and the automobile, hotels and inns typically developed their menu with locally available inexpensive fresh ingredients, and they often employed local cooks for their regionally famous recipes. Here are the facts, you decide.

Along the Northeastern Atlantic Coast, Indians consumed large quantities of clams and oysters. Fish chowder was a popular dish, but we can hardly credit the Indians with having introduced it to the Europeans. Clams became an accepted consumable over time, but it is on record that in the 1620’s the Pilgrims in Massachusetts fed clams and mussels to their hogs with the explanation that they were “the meanest of God’s blessings.” It makes you wonder about the origin of that creamy New England clam chowder as well, but that is another story.

The first and oldest-known printed fish chowder recipe was in the Boston Evening Poston September 23, 1751. The use of herbs and spices in this recipe show the typical 18th century English taste for lots of seasonings, but still no record of clams in chowder alone and tomatoes were still thought to be a poisonous fruit of the sumac family.

Some historians claim that Red Manhattan Clam Chowder was originally named Coney Island Clam Chowder or Fulton Market Clam Chowder. Both of these names were used as early as the 1890’s by Alessandro Filippini and Charles Ranhofer who both worked at the famous Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York at different times.

There are claims that Red Manhattan Clam Chowder was actually invented in Rhode Island by Portuguese immigrants, but it wasn't until 1867 when Pierre Blot actually published a recipe for clam chowder using tomatoes in his Handbook of Practical Cookery for Ladies and Professional Cooks, but its origin still remains in question.

“By the 1830’s”, according to James Turk, executive director of Salem County Historical Society, “tomatoes had become a common crop and almost every country village in South Jersey had a cannery.” We also know that clam production was a growing New Jersey industry in the early 1800’s especially around Barnegat Bay where chowder clams were abundant

“Although there were less than 500 residents in Lacey Township (Forked River), the town had a number of large hotels: The Lafayette House, the Carman House which later became Eno’s Riverside Hotel, the Blodgett House, and the Parker House which became the Greyhound Inn. These Barnegat Bay inns catered to tourists who came for boating, fishing, hunting, and was as a stopover point between New York and Atlantic City.

According to a number of written accounts, red clam chowder made using tomatoes and not necessarily associated with Manhattan, was a favorite dish served at the Greyhound Inn located in Forked River.

In the mid 1800's, it was not uncommon for New York celebrity chefs, looking to avoid the summer heat of the city, to spend the summer months working for the large hotel resorts in Long Branch, Barnegat, and Atlantic City. Since nearly everything that was served was widely imitated, it is certain that several New York upscale restaurants probably sold a version of tomato-based clam chowder.

New York may hold title to the Giants and Jets, but their claim to fame with Manhattan Clam Chowder is a bit muddy; Barnegat mud that is.

Here is my rendition of a century old recipe from Mrs. S.W. Hand’s Cookbook of the Ladies Aid Society of the First Methodist Church, Atlantic City, New Jersey which I obtained from the Special Collections and University Archives of Rutgers University Libraries.


EQUIPMENT: Rotary Food Cutter, 5-quart soup pot 

PREPARATION: 1 hour 15 minutes - makes 6 servings

Fresh New Jersey INGREDIENTS

  • 2 dozen large chowder clams, shucked, cleaned, and chopped fine (clam liquor reserved)
  • 2 ounces salt pork or thick bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped #2 cone
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup clam liquor, strained
  • 1 stalk celery, grated #1 cone
  • 1 carrot, grated #1 cone
  • 6 medium New Jersey tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup clam juice or chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano, or dried
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme, or dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 2 cups warm milk, or half and half
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream for topping
  • Fresh chopped basil for garnish

In the 5-quart soup pot, brown off salt pork or bacon over medium-high heat 300° F (150°C). Add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Sauté until tender. Stir in the clam liquor, celery, carrots, clams, tomatoes, puree, clam juice or chicken stock, and herbs. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper, if using. Cover open the vent and reduce the heat to 240°F (116°C). Simmer approximately 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

To serve: Top with a dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh basil. Enjoy!

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