Monday, April 6, 2020

Origins of Manhattan Clam Chowder

The beginning of a poem about Clam Chowder.
--New-England Galaxy & Masonic Magazine, September 1, 1820

Ladies and gentlemen, I present for you a Battle Royale: New England Clam Chowder vs Manhattan Clam Chowder. In the end, who shall prevail?

People often have strong opinions on which chowder version they prefer, generally dependent upon where they live, although there are exceptions. For example, though born in Oregon, famed cook James Beard moved to New York City when he was around 24 years old. You might think he embraced Manhattan clam chowder but in his book American Cookery (1972), he wrote briefly about “. . . that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder,” and noted that it "...resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.”

What's your opinion?

Although tomato-based clam chowders have existed in New York since at least the second half of the 19th century, most sources claim that the first use of the term "Manhattan" Clam Chowder was in 1934. in the Soups and Sauces cookbook by Virginia Elliott and Robert Jones. In Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover's Companion to New York City (2015), edited by Andrew F. Smith, it stated, “The first located recipe titled "Manhattan Clam Chowder" was published by Virginia Elliott and Robert Jones in Soups and Sauces (1934). This recipe substituted tomatoes for milk. The name "Manhattan Clam Chowder" caught on, but it had no real association with New York City.”

Other sources would quote or use this information in their own articles. Many sources also stated that tomato-based chowders were previously known in New York by other names, including Fulton Market Clam Chowder, Coney Island Clam Chowder, and New York Clam Chowder. These sources also commonly allege that "Manhattan" Clam Chowder received its name by New Englanders who were derisive of tomato-based chowders.

In the Daily Oklahoman (OK), February 1, 2012, there was a chowder article which discussed some of the findings in The Book of Chowder (1978) by Richard Hooker. Hooker alleged that tomato-based clam chowder was "an abomination to the simple country folk of New England who derisively referred to the nouvelle chowder as 'Manhattan-style' since nothing of quality came from New York." He also claimed "By the beginning of the Great Depression, the name had stuck,.."

However, is that the true origin of Manhattan Clam Chowder? It didn't take much research to cast significant doubt upon the most commonly accepted origin tale. For example, I found a reference to Manhattan Clam Chowder predating the 1934 cookbook reference by almost 50 years. And the deeper I delved, the more fascinating I found the entire matter. There was so much more involved to the history of Manhattan clam chowder, and I became convinced of the validity of a different theory as to the true origin of its name.

Chowder was very popular in New York during the early 19th century, and as you could also find in New England, there were "chowder parties" held in various parts of New York, including Brooklyn and Long Island. These parties likely included both fish and clam chowders. The first reference I found to a chowder party in New York was in the Long-Island Star, June 26, 1834. Some chowder lovers even organized, such as the Brooklyn Chowder Association. The Brooklyn Evening Star, July 19, 1842, noted that the motto of this organization was “For the promotion of Health, Sociability and Enjoyment.” They held semi-monthly excursions, on the first and third Tuesdays, weather permitting.

Coney Island, located on a New York peninsula, had become a popular seaside resort by the mid-19th century. Seafood, including chowder, was ubiquitous at Coney Island restaurants though the first direct reference to "clam chowder" on Coney Island was in the New York Daily Herald, July 19, 1845. Prior to that time, the term "chowder' was used, but you couldn't differentiate whether it referred to fish or clam chowder, or both.

As a brief aside, in 1847, there was an "eating match" between two men in New York, a competition to see who could eat the most chowder. The Brooklyn Evening Star, August 11, 1847, noted that such eating matches, for public entertainment, were new. Two members of a chowder party, both known as “extraordinary feeders,” faced off against each other on Bergen's Island. The loser of the contest ate only 37 bowls of chowder, while the winner ate more, though the article didn't specify how much more.

The 1850s saw the formation of a number of "chowder clubs," which basically seemed to be groups who went on excursions to eat chowder together and drink. There were groups such as the Union Chowder Club, American Chowder Club, and the Ninth Ward Chowder Club. The 1850s would also see the first specific reference to “Coney Island clam chowder.” The New York Daily Herald, March 20, 1857, had a brief mention of “Coney Island clam chowder.” Unfortunately, there wasn't a description of this chowder, though it is suspected it might have included tomatoes.

Coney Island was acquiring a stellar reputation as a place for clams and chowder. The Times Union, August 4, 1862, noted that if “would you enjoy a glorious plunge in the saline-aqueous, with clam-chowder and eke the roasted bivalves afterwards? We commend to Coney Island.” The New York Times, August 20, 1863, had the first specific reference to a “clam-chowder party,” and not just a ore generic "chowder party." The Buffalo Sunday Morning News, May 6, 1877, mentioned that “Clam chowder parties are fashionable…” while their June 17, 1877 issue was the first to mention a specific “clam chowder club.”

There's mention of another specific chowder in New York. The Indianapolis News (IN), March 29, 1875, mentioned that "Fulton Market Clam Chowder" was available at a local market, without providing any description of its contents. Was it tomato-based or not? The Schenectady Evening Star (NY), October 16, 1875, mentioned that Coney Island Clam Chowder was available at the David House.

To the east of Coney Island, there was Manhattan Beach, which during the 1870s saw significant investment to turn it into a high-class tourist destination, catering to the wealthy. In July 1877, the luxurious Manhattan Beach Hotel opened and then in August 1880, the equally luxurious Oriental Hotel opened on the shore. Manhattan Beach became the most high-end resort area on the peninsula, and its creation likely plays a large role in the naming of Manhattan Clam Chowder, a topic I'll address later in this article.

An article published a year after the opening of the Manhattan Beach Hotel noted the higher food prices on Coney Island and the two other resort areas. The New York Daily Herald, July 22, 1878, reported that many people were concerns about the high food prices and hotel costs. The prices were often higher than what was found in New York City restaurants, though restaurant owners claimed that they also had higher costs as they had to bring in ingredients from a greater distance and they also had higher waste. Some comparison prices were given, for Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and an Uptown Restaurant. For example, stewed clams were 40 cents at Manhattan Beach, 30 cents at Brighton, and 20 cents Uptown. For fried clams, they were 40 cents at Manhattan Beach, 35 cents at Brighton, and 35 cents Uptown.

The Lancaster Times (NY), July 10, 1879, noted that at the Coney Island pier, you could have “genuine Coney Island chowder.” There would be plenty of other ads during the next couple years for this chowder.

A more detailed article was provided in The New York Times, July 14, 1879, which sang the praises of Coney Island chowder. "As the great national chowder-pot, Coney Island comes boldly to the front." But, not all of the chowders on Coney Island were the same. "And Coney Island chowder is a mystery that no man has ever yet fathomed." One man claimed to have eaten chowder at 11 different places, each one different. That person ate at Norton & Murray's, noting, "I think it was genuine chowder, for it had clams in it, and potatoes, and tomatoes." How, he didn't like that they added vinegar to the chowder. He also noted that, "At the Brighton and Manhattan beaches, where it comes on in silver pans, which cost more,.."

The article seems to indicate that Coney Island clam chowder must have tomatoes, though each restaurant still made their own version, with the addition of various different ingredients in addition to tomatoes. It's also interesting how the clam chowder was presented on Manhattan Beach, served in silver pans, presenting it as a high quality dish, elevated above the more common clam chowders on Coney Island. This is another important element in the role of the naming of Manhattan Clam Chowder.

The New York Tribune, July 21, 1879, was the first to provide a price for clam chowder, noting that Fulton Market Clam Chowder sold for 20 cents.

The first recipe I found for Coney Island Clam Chowder was in the New Family Cookbook (1885) by Juliet Corson. Corson was born in Boston though moved to New York, where she established the famed New York School of Cookery in 1886. Her cook contained a recipe for Coney Island Clam Chowder, with directions including, “Peel and slice a pint of fresh or canned tomatoes.” We see here that Coney Island Clam Chowder was tomato-based. The recipe also contained a couple different spices, including grated nutmeg and curry powder.

Interestingly, the cookbook also contained a recipe for “Clam Chowder,” which was actually very similar to that for the Coney Island version, including the fact that it used tomatoes. This was definitely not a New England version of Clam Chowder. It didn't include the nutmeg or curry as in the Coney Island version, and used celery seed, which wasn't in the Coney Island recipe. Though Corson was originally from Boston, it's obvious her love was for New York style chowder.

In 1886, another cookbook provided a recipe for Coney Island Clam Chowder. Cooking for Profit: A New American Cook Book Adapted for the Use of All who Serve Meals for a Price (Chicago, 1886), by Jessup Whitehead, was originally published in the San Francisco Daily Hotel Gazette. This indicates how far the fame of Coney Island Clam Chowder had already spread, all the way to California. The book contained a recipe for Clam Chowder: Coney Island Style, and stated, "The clam chowder so popular in the restaurants as a lunch as a lunch dish is more of a stew than soup, being thick with clams and potatoes." It also mentioned, "The Coney Island chowder contains tomatoes and herb seasonings." There was also a recipe for Clam Chowder: Boston Style, and it was noted, "This is what is called the old-fashioned sort, having no tomatoes in it."

One more cookbook. In A Few Hints about Cooking, with Remarks on Many Other Subjects (Boston, 1887), by Sarah Grier, there is a recipe for Clam Chowder, which we would call a New England style, which is made without tomatoes. However, and despite the fact Sarah lived in the Boston area, she preferred tomato-based chowder. As she wrote, "There is another recipe, which, in my opinion, is infinitely superior to the above; but it is an acquired taste, and I should not like to risk the serving of it to guests who were eating it for the first time. It is the Coney Island manner of making chowder." She noted that the main difference between the two chowder recipes, was that the Coney Island version added a half can of tomatoes, powdered thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and a sliced lemon.

Manhattan Clam Chowder appeared! The first reference I found for "Manhattan" Clam Chowder was in 1887, 47 years before what most sources claim was the first reference in a 1934 cookbook. The Buffalo Times (NY), June 25, 1887, published an ad which read, “The original boss Manhattan clam chowder at Geo. J. Bucheit’s, cor. of Ellicott and Carroll Streets, every Saturday night from 5 to 10." There's no indication "Manhattan" was used as a term of derision, and obviously use of the term occurred much earlier than the Depression. And this is but the first of many other references to "Manhattan" clam chowder which I found prior to 1934.

Back to Coney Island Clam Chowder. The Steward's Handbook and Guide to Party Catering by Jessup Whitehead (January 1, 1889) mentioned that Coney Island Clam Chowder was a “thick soup or thin stew containing tomatoes, clams, onions, potatoes, bay leaf, herbs, etc., started by frying the main ingredients together until half-cooked, then adding broth and little wine.” The book also noted another type of chowder, Tunnison Clam Chowder, which was a “seaside hotel-keeper’s specialty” that contained tomatoes and herbs, in addition to the regular ingredients.

I wasn't able to find much else about Tunnison Clam Chowder, except for a recipe first provided in the Courier-Journal (KY), April 9, 1901, which was reprinted in several other newspapers, in Indiana, D.C., New Jersey, and New York. The recipe included tomatoes, as well as a layer of milk soaked sea biscuits or Boston crackers.

During the later half of the 19th century, Delmonico's, located in New York City, was considered one of the best fine-dining restaurants in the country. Two former chefs at Delmonico wrote their own cookbooks, and both contained clam chowder recipes that included the use of tomatoes. Interestingly, both chefs referred to these recipes simply as "Clam Chowder," and didn't call it Coney Island or Manhattan chowder.

First, there was The Table: How to Buy Food, How to Cook It, and How to Serve It (1889) by Alessandro Filippini. His recipe mentioned, “Lightly scald four medium-sized tomatoes, peel and cut them into small pieces and add them to the preparation.” Second, there was  The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise of Analytical & Practical Studies (1894) by Charles Ranhofer. His recipe called for “one quart of tomatoes peeled, pressed and cut in half inch squares.”

Despite claims that New Englanders were vehemently opposed to the use of tomatoes in clam chowder, The Boston Globe, January 29, 1895, published four recipes for Coney Island Clam Chowder. A reader sought such a recipe and several people came forward, offering their own version of that recipe. Above, is the first recipe that was submitted.

The second submitted recipe.

The third submitted recipe.

The fourth submitted recipe.

The Boston Globe, February 13, 1895, also presented another recipe for Coney Island Clam Chowder. Obviously there were a number of people in the Boston area who were curious enough to make their own tomato-based chowders at home.

New York Clam Chowder! The Boston Daily Globe, June 2, 1896, briefly mentioned that New York Clam Chowder was available for Ladies' Lunch at Cook’s.

And as I start addressing chowder references from the early 20th century, I want to note that the term Coney Island Clam Chowder continued to be used throughout the entire 20th century, in a myriad of restaurant ads, all across the country, including as far west as California. It was essentially a synonym for Manhattan Clam Chowder, yet its usage didn't vanish as the use of "Manhattan" rose.

Another cookbook, Vachon's Book of Economical Soups and Entrees (1903), by Joseph Vachon, provided a recipe for Boston Clam Chowder, which didn't contain tomatoes. It also provided a recipe for Coney Island Clam Chowder which called for a “thin layer of canned tomatoes” and recommended to flavor it "with a little tomato catsup and Worcestershire.”

The Fort Wayne Daily News (IN), June 19, 1903, noted that Manhattan Clam Chowder was available at O’Reilley’s Oyster Bay. We thus see that this type of chowder was now available outside of New York, in this instance in Indiana.

The Democrat and Chronicle (NY), April 6, 1904, provided more details about Manhattan Clam Chowder, and the information seemed to indicate it had existed for some time. The article noted, “There was a time when Manhattan clam chowder was a mixture of merit, occupying a position of honor in the culinary world. Nobody ever thought of letting a Friday go by without indulging in a dish of the delicious concoction, and as much oftener is the week as the appetite called for it.” There's no indication that anyone ever saw the term "Manhattan" as a term of derision from non-New Yorkers.

The article continued, noting that many current restaurants weren't providing the quality chowder as once was available. “Metropolitan clam chowder has, however, descended to the quick lunch menu, and is no longer the succulent dish that old New Yorkers used to go wild over. Clam chowder as served in the majority of restaurants today is suspiciously like vegetable soup, with just enough of the clam flavoring to give it a name. There are still a few places in town, however, where real clam chowder may be had.

And how is that real Manhattan Clam Chowder prepared? “Here is the way they make it: They put into iron kettles layers of nice fat pork cut into small squares, let it simmer and brown for a while, then put in a layer of claims (little necks preferred) cut into pieces, but not as small as the pork squares. Then some layers of sliced onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, and on top a layer of biscuit. All this is allowed to cook slowly until thoroughly done, and never under any circumstance is it stirred until ready to serve.” The addition of a layer of biscuit is interesting, and rarely seen in other recipes at this time.

More placings serving Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Evening World, February 2, 1905, had an ad for Rothenberg & Co., "New York’s Fastest Growing Store, " that noted their restaurant offered a 5-course “Table d’Hote Lunch” for 25 cents, which included Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), August 11, 1905, published an ad for La Corona Hotel Café, with a Friday special including Manhattan Clam Chowder. The chowder had spread to Canada! And in The Honolulu Advertiser, July 13, 1906, they printed an ad for The Grotto Restaurant, and its lunch menu included Manhattan Clam Chowder. The chowder had spread as far west in the U.S. as it could, to Hawaii.

Manhattan tomato-based chowder had spread wide and far, all by 1906.

Again, despite claims that New Englanders didn't like tomatoes in their clam chowder, the Boston Globe, March 4, 1908, provided a recipe for Fulton Market Clam Chowder.

The San Francisco Call Bulletin (CA), April 25, 1909, offered a recipe for Coney Island Clam Chowder.

From Manhattan to Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune, July 24, 1909, published an ad for the Saltair Restaurant, which had their menu including Manhattan Clam Chowder for 15 cents.

One of the oldest, and quite vehement, attacks against the use of tomatoes in clam chowder was presented in the Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News, August 13, 1909, reprinting a column from the Washington, D.C. Times. Interestingly, the source of the derision wasn't from someone from New England. And these attacks were very rare in the newspapers during this time period.

The article stated, “What passes for clam chowder in New York is not chowder. It is soup, and poor soup. It is soup without pride of race or strength. Usually it is watery, as if prepared originally as a swimming pool for living clams. Tomatoes you will always find therein. You cannot tell a New York clam chowder by the clams, but you can always identify it by the tomatoes. If you order clam chowder and get something that resembles a cross between tomato soup and chicken gumbo, say nothing that you will be sorry for. Eat what you get, or not, as your hunger demands and your fastidiousness permits. You are face to face with that evil, misnamed concoction, a New York clam chowder. If you find a clam therein, or a section of a clam, let it alone. It is not the kind of clam which enters into the real clam chowder of these shores. It is large, tough and aged, chopped with a hatchet into little bits, and used sparingly, but not sparingly enough. The best way to eat a New York clam chowder is to throw it out of a window or send it back.” Quite harsh words.

There was a bit more positivity in an article from the Morning Union (CA), August 25, 1909. The article started, “This is a very hearty dish, generally liked." It then provided a recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder, noting, “Get five pounds of little neck clams, this being enough for six persons. Wash and put on to boil in a saucepan with a glass of water. Cover. Steep five minutes. Strain the broth and remove the clams from the shells, cutting them in half, or if they are large, in quarters. Now brown a minced onion, a minced green pepper and a quarter pound of dried salt pork, cooking until the onion is tender. Then add four potatoes diced very small; four peeled, quartered tomatoes and six Bent’s crackers rolled into small bits. Then add the broth, two glasses of water, seasoning, a teaspoonful of Worcestershire, a wineglassful of tomato catsup, some thyme leaf juice and simmer slowly until the potatoes are done but not broken into bits. Just before serving add your clams, a pinch of sugar and minced parsley. Serve oyster crackers on the side.”

More places offered Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Indianapolis Star (IN), September 18, 1909, printed an ad for White’s, which offered Manhattan Clam Chowder for 10 cents. The Pittsburgh Daily Post (PA), March 6, 1910, had an ad for Kaufman’s, offering a Lenten Lunch with Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Oregon Daily Journal, September 5, 1912, posted an ad for The Holtz Store, with a lunch menu including Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Indianapolis Star (IN), September 27, 1912, published an ad for the Budweiser Bar and Café with Manhattan Clam Chowder for 10 cents. And the Hartford Courant (CT), April 18, 1913, had an ad for the Boston Branch Grocery, with Manhattan Clam Chowder as a Buffet Special.

Back to Canada. The Star-Phoenix (Saskatchewan, Canada), December 15, 1913, had an ad for a Café at Cairns serving Manhattan Clam Chowder for 10 cents. The San Francisco Call & Post, December 18, 1913, printed an ad for Hale’s “Pompeian Court” Restaurant which served Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Ridgewood Herald (NJ), October 8, 1914, published an advertisement for the O.K. Market, which offered a Friday special of “Home-Made Manhattan Beach Clam Chowder” for 20 cents per quart. The Buffalo Times (NY), November 13, 1914, had an ad for J.N. Adam & Co., which in their Tea Room served Manhattan Clam Chowder.

I want to highlight the use of the term, "Manhattan Beach Clam Chowder" which was mentioned in the New Jersey newspaper. This actually hints at the possible origin of the term "Manhattan" clam chowder, which might have derived from a specific location, the Manhattan Beach. By itself, this certainly wouldn't be sufficient evidence, but later in this article, the more evidence and analysis will be proffered.

Canada again. The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia), February 23, 1915, printed an ad for Ritz Café, offering a 30 cent luncheon with Manhattan Clam Chowder as one of the dishes. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 30, 1915, had an ad for Stix, Baer & Fuller, mentoring their Seafood Luncheon, which cost 50 cents, and included Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Star Tribune (MN), October 22, 1915, printed an ad for The Pheasant Room West Hotel Club Luncheon with their Manhattan Clam Chowder. In Hotel Monthly, Volume 24, 1916, it was noted that Manhattan Clam Chowder served at The Cadillac in Detroit. And the Evening News (PA), March 9, 1917, had an ad for The Hampton, which had a special of Manhattan Clam Chowder for 10 cents.

Again, we see that Manhattan Clam Chowder was popular all across the country, as well as in Canada.

Canned Manhattan Clam Chowder? Despite claims that the term "Manhattan" clam chowder wasn't coined until 1934, it ended up on can labels as early as 1920. The Canner/Packer, Vol.50, 1920, mentioned that “The Gorton-Pew Fisheries Co….at its Plymouth cannery, where they also pack “Down East” and “Manhattam” clam chowder,…” So, a famed Massachusetts fishery, with a canning facility in Plymouth, produced Manhattan clam chowder in a can. They didn't seem to have a problem with tomatoes in clam chowder. And that tomato-based chowder was obviously popular enough that the fishery expected the product to be profitable.

The York Dispatch (PA), March 2, 1921, posted an ad for Manhattan Clam Chowder in a can, for 15 cents.

Another recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder. The Times Union (NY), February 26, 1929, presented winning recipes from the Brooklyn Daily Time Recipe Contest for the Lenten season. Mrs. Catherine Gottfried won $1 for her Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe, with a list of ingredients including 5 slices of bacon, diced, 1 large can of tomatoes, 1 large onion, 4 potatoes, 5 carrots, 1 stalk celery, 1 green pepper, 1 cup diced strong beans, 6 cups water, and 1 dozen large clams.

The Morning Post (NJ), July 10, 1931, printed an intriguing recipe for Clam Chowder Souffle, which required a can of Manhattan clam chowder. This would be easy for any home cook to prepare.

The Atlanta Constitution (GA), July 18, 1933, had a recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder, which required 2 dozen fresh clams, 4 potatoes, 3 medium onions, 1/3 cup celery, 2 slices salt pork, teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and 2 cups of canned tomatoes.

Differences between Manhattan and New England chowders. The Wilkes-Barre Time Leader (PA), May 31, 1935, mentioned that "New England clam chowder is made from clams, onions, potatoes and milk with salt pork as seasoning; Manhattan style clam chowder is more like a vegetable soup with clams since it contains clams, onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes with salt pork, thyme and other seasonings." The article then provided a recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder.

The Boston Herald, January 13, 1936, provided an article comparing New England and Manhattan clam chowders. It begins, "The original American chowders were made with shell fish, green turtle, corn, and okra. Gradually their ingredients were extended to include all manners of seafood, meat and vegetables--even the feathered clan has found its way into the chowder kettle with chicken chowder high in favor." It then mentions the difference of the two chowders. "New England clam chowder--a creamy blend of clams, milk and potatoes--is anathema to the New Yorker. By the same token, people from 'Down East' wince at the mere mention of Manhattan clam chowder, in which the clams frolic in a highly seasoned tomato broth."

The author of the article enjoyed both versions. "Both chowders are equally delicious (there now, we've probably started something!) but with entirely different flavors." Recipes for both versions were then provided.

A law to ban tomatoes in Clam Chowder? The Austin American-Statesman (TX), January 25, 1939, published a from a story from Augusta, Maine. It stated that, “Cooks who add tomatoes to Maine clam chowder Wednesday were threatened with the impossible penalty of digging a barrel of clams at high tide. The penalty was proposed in a bill introduced in the Maine legislature by Rep. Cleveland Sleeper Jr., who explained he was alarmed by the ‘infiltration of foreign ideas of cookery,’ which he feared would ‘throw Maine clam chowder from its culinary pinnacle.” The preamble to the bill noted that “Tomatoes and clams have no affinity either of mind or body,’ and ‘Their union in a chowder is an unholy one and leads only to the moral degradation of the principals.”

The Boston Globe, January 27, 1939, explained that Cleveland Sleeper, Jr., the Maine State Representative from Rockland, had recently presented a bill to the State Legislature to “make it illegal for housewives or others to add tomatoes to Maine claim chowder, making the so-called clam chowder, New York style." Of course lovers of tomato-based chowders weren't pleased with this idea. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), January 29, 1939 mentioned that “Tomato-loving friends of so-called ‘Manhattan clam chowder’ (named for old Manhattan Beach of the day of the steam cars) were indignant.”

That article is intriguing for its explanation for the naming of "Manhattan" clam chowder. The 1880s and 1890s were a major time for the production of steam cars, and that fits within the first documented reference I found, in 1887, of the use of the term "Manhattan." It is also supported by the reference, in a New Jersey newspaper of 1914, which referenced “Home-Made Manhattan Beach Clam Chowder.” This may be a more logical origin tale than that "Manhattan" began as a term of derision.

As mentioned previously, clam chowder was very popular on Coney Island and the resorts of Manhattan Beach and Brighton Beach. Manhattan Beach tried to differentiate itself as the resort for the wealthy, and served their clam chowder in silver pans. Why wouldn't they also try to name this chowder after themselves, differentiating it from "Coney Island" chowder, making it seem a higher-quality product? So, instead of being derived from terms of derision, "Manhattan" clam chowder was more likely a designation of alleged superiority.

The Hartford Courant (CT), January 30, 1939, noted that the New York Herald Tribune has “risen to the defense of that New York favorite, the Manhattan clam chowder with tomatoes." The article also referred to a New Jersey concoction called “bully Clam Chowder,” that was made of large juicy clams, ground ripe tomatoes, green peppers, onions, parsley, spices, salt and pepper. I haven't been able to find anything else about this type of New Jersey chowder.

The Boston Herald, February 26, 1939, reported that, in five days, there would be a Clam Chowder contest, pitting Maine chowder against Manhattan chowder. The contest would occur, at 4pm, at the Hotel Lafayette in Portland, Maine, pitting a chef from Maine against a chef from Philadelphia. The event was to be the main event of the mid-Winter frolic of the Maine Hotel Association. Rep. Sleeper would represent the tomato-free chowder, and Harry Tully, an owner of a restaurant in Philadelphia and the President of the International Stewards and Caterers’ Association, would present tomato-based chowder.

A radio debate over chowder. The Boston Globe, February 27, 1939, noted that WBZ radio hosted a debate on “Should There be Tomato in Clam Chowder." The three speakers included Rep. Cleveland Sleeper, Chef Mathias Gotwalt, and Joe DiMaggio, of the New York Yankees (who was there to defend the use of the tomato in chowder). No results of the debate were provided.

The Boston Globe, February 28, 1939, and The Town Talk (LA), March 3, 1939, gave more details about the chowder showdown. Rep. Sleeper's tomato-free chowder would be prepared by George Miller, the official cook for the Maine’s Hotel Men’s association. Harry Tully's, chowder would be prepared by Chef Julius Savinese. It was now even more clear that Sleeper's bill to prohibit tomatoes in chowder was a publicity stunt.

The results of the chowder battle were detailed in the Boston Globe, March 4, 1939 and Boston Herald, March 4, 1839. About 200 people attended the event and before the chowder contest, there were a series of Maine cookery demonstrations by Maine cooks. A top prize went to Miss Prudence Stickney, age 78, from Shaker Village at Sabbath Day Lake in Poland, for her Shaker Fish and Egg Casserole.

Eleven judges presided over the chowder battle, including Paul Mack-Hale, the President of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association; Joseph Martz, president of the Epicurean Club of Boston; Arthur Greenleaf, Maine fisheries commissioner; Ruth Wakefield, inventor of Toll House cookies; and Arthur Race, manager of the Copley-Plaza hotel in Boston. None of the judges were from New York or Philadelphia, just Maine and Massachusetts, which certainly seems a bit slanted in favor of Rep. Sleeper.

And the result? “11 of New England’s leading authorities on what’s fit to eat, agreed unanimously that clam chowder is one thing, and that ‘clam chowder, Manhattan style’ is another—an inferior article.” Chef Julius Savinese lost and the judges noted that his tomato-based chowder was “Not a bad vegetable stew.” The judges even refused to refer to it as a "chowder," calling it either a "stew" or "vegetable soup." Plus, it was mentioned that Savinese had been brought to "drown good Maine clams in a little pond of tomato sauce."

In addition, it was stated that the judges “..knew what they learned at their mothers’ knees, that a true clam chowder contains salt port, milk, Maine clams, Maine potatoes and little else. They knew that to put tomatoes into a clam chowder is to commit a crime against nature.” It was also mentioned that “Behind Representative Sleeper and his measure rallied the entire state of Maine, which loves publicity as a wolf loves meat.”

An Ohio write penned an article noting the differences of the two chowders. The Plain Dealer (OH), May 4, 1941, began with "If you want to get into a spirited argument with a New Englander all you have to say is 'Tomatoes belong in a clam chowder and not milk.'" The author also believes that Manhattan clam chowder is the most popular version, though the article includes recipes for both versions.

We now can see that the term "Manhattan" clam chowder appeared much earlier, nearly fifty years, than most sources claim. Plus, this type of chowder was available all across the country, as far west as Hawaii, and even in Canada. It was even available by the can, produced by a Massachusetts fishery, prior to 1934, when most other sources claimed the term "Manhattan" clam chowder was first used.

The early appearance, as far back as 1887, as well as other evidence and analysis, seems to indicate the term wasn't created by acts of derision by New Englanders who hated tomato-based chowder. There is some evidence, which seems reasonable, that it may actually have been named after Manhattan Beach, used as a term of superiority to differentiate it from the more "plebeian" Coney Island clam chowder.

We can also see that Boston newspapers in the later 19th century were providing tomato-based chowder recipes for its readers, so not all New Englanders opposed such a thing, at least during that time period. The chowder battles between New England and New York may be a later invention, especially as they seem far more common during the 1930s.

What are your thoughts about Manhattan Clam Chowder?


Paul Weimer said...


Evergrey said...

Well, if it is any indication, I specifically googled "Manhattan style clam chowder is an abomination," and ran across your article as a result. I, myself, am firmly in the cream-based chowder camp, though I feel that the tomato version would, indeed, be far more palatable with half a pound of salt pork added in.

My partner was quite amused by my dramatic reading of the fiery anti-Manhattan style article of 1909. Thank you for taking the time to write and research this. It is not how I expected to spend the middle of the night, but it was, nevertheless, time well spent.

Tag Sale Blog said...

My Great Grandfather is credited by NY Times (Molly O'Neil- Writer) as the inventor of Manhattan Clam Chowder. He subbed tomatoes simply due to food cost related expenses.