You do not need to be in New England to enjoy clam chowder. Thick and creamy, clam chowder brings back fond and memorable memories of my love. Oh I have to say they are not all fond but you will learn more about this as the story unfolds. My love was passionate about cooking. He refused to be called a chef. He was a cook and the best around. His clam chowder could not be beat. Whether he made 60 gallons, one gallon or a quart, it was consistently delicious. He really had no use for Manhattan clam chowder. As a matter of fact I do not ever recall if he actually made Manhattan clam chowder. He may have been forced to make the Manhattan variety when he cooked for Western Washington University (WWU) Food Service but that was just work. Clam chowder was something that stuck to your ribs. His chowder was made with love and never disappointed. It consisted of potatoes, bacon, onions, celery, a generous portion of clams, heavy cream and spices. This chowder was hearty and really was not for the person who was on a diet.
When I first met my love he was the breakfast lunch cook at the Viking Commons Dining Hall at WWU. In those days soups were freshly made daily and shipped out to all the coffee shop eateries throughout campus. Clam chowder was on the menu every Friday. I remember looking forward to a cup of chowder. What I remember more vividly is how large the 60-gallon steam kettles were that the chowder was made in. The coffee shop driver would scoop out five gallon buckets of soup to deliver around campus. But, I digress.
Skip forwards a couple of years. By this time my love and I have moved in together in an apartment overlooking Bellingham Bay. We would work all day at the University and then spend our evenings at our favorite bar, which we eventually bought years later. This bar was an amazing place of good friends. During the holiday season we would all gather for a feast of fried hooligan and clam chowder. A hooligan is a smelt like creature that is scooped out of the Nooksack River. I think that run is all dried up now. One of my most memorable clan chowder memories is the Christmas party of either 1982 or 83.
I really do not remember the actual making of the clam chowder of 1982-83 but I do remember transporting the thick creamy goodness from our wonderful apartment to the bar. In those days I drove a small blue Mazda Truck. I think it was comparable to a Ford Courier. It was a manual without power steering. Bellingham, for those of you who do not know, is a town of hills. That Mazda truck’s clutch would pop at the most inopportune times. It had more issues but that is for another story. Bellingham is also a town of one-way streets. You cannot get anywhere on a straight shot. The drive from our apartment on south State Street to the bar on North State Street required us to drive down one steep hill, down Forest, right on Chestnut (another steep hill), left on Indian, left on Holly, and left on State. All was going well until we reached the right turn up the hill on Chestnut. My love was sitting in the passenger seat with a large stockpot filled to the brim with piping hot clam chowder. As I turned the corner to go up Chestnut, the clutch popped and the chowder exploded out of the pot, spilling hot thick chowder in my loves lap, all over the cab of the truck, everywhere. As you can imagine, my love was not pleased. I pulled over and he left the scene of the chowder fiasco and went to the bar next door. When I arrived at our bar, there really wasn’t that much chowder left. So, given the events I decided I needed a few drinks. When I sold the truck a year or so later, I was still cleaning chowder out of the truck’s cracks and crevasses. Each year from that point on, Christmas parties at our bar became bigger and bigger. I do not think that clam chowder was ever on the menu from that point forward though.
So, why am I fixated on clam chowder? Since my loves passing, friends and neighbors have been so generous by bringing us meals My son and I have received so many wonderful meals of all kinds. As this kindness was a little overwhelming, I decided that I should start freezing some of the delicacies. In addition to wonderful casseroles we have received a variety of chowders, all very yummy by the way. The other night I decided to pull some salmon chowder out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave. My son was sitting at the counter doing his Algebra II homework and not even complaining. He was actually getting it. All was right with the world. I pulled the chowder out and realized that it still needed another five minutes or so. Here is where things get a little troubling. When I pulled the chowder out for the second time, the bowl was hot and I really did not have a good grip on it. Yep, as you can imagine, I dropped the chowder and it exploded spilling chowder all over the stove, the counter, the floor, on my son’s homework, and all over me. This was too much for my son. He could not stop laughing. We were able to scrape up enough for dinner but what a mess. This weekend I am going to have to pull the stove out because chowder dripped between the stove and the counter. Oh, man what a mess.
As I have had this lingering sense that my love is near by, I retold the chowder story of 1982 to my son. I was standing in the place that my love spent many wonderful hours making homemade bread, pizza, lasagna, stews, pita bread, pastas of every variety, cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies and a wide variety of other delightful delicacies. At that moment in time I was pretty certain that my love would have been having a good laugh.