Posted by: acooksca | 09/28/2012

California style Clam Chowder: circa 1919

California Clam Chowder

Mid-century California restaurant menus listed two clam chowders: Manhattan, a tomato-based clam chowder and New England white clam chowder. My mother, a native of California, always chose the Manhattan style. As the century came to a close it went extinct on most menus in favor of the heavy, flour thickened New England chowder.  I could argue that tomato finished clam chowder is real California chowder, patterned after our Spanish and Italian immigrant’s liberal use of tomatoes with seafood and the state’s tremendous tomato fields.

This recipe closely follows one in the Hotel St. Francis Cook Book, published 1919. In that book, under the menu dated December 5th, cups of clam broth and chicken-clam consommé are served with a dollop of (unsweetened) whipped cream on top. The clam chowder, however, has no cream but chopped tomatoes and is thickened in the last minutes of cooking with broken crackers.

2 lbs. fresh clams, washed well in several changes of water
1 tablespoon butter
1 leek, white part chopped and soaked 10 minutes, drained
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 ounces salt pork or bacon, chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, about 8 ounces
1 quart clam broth, or part chicken stock 
1  teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh)
Salt, pepper, paprika, sugar to taste
12-ounce chopped canned tomatoes in juice  (See Cook’s Note below)
½ cup broken Saltine crackers

Place the clams and ¼ cup water in a large pot over medium-high heat, cover and cook until the clams open, about 10 minutes. Remove the cooked clams from their shells, reserving a few for garnish, and roughly chop. Strain the clam juice to remove sand or shell bits. Set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the butter, leek, onion, celery and pork, cover and let simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Cut the potato, unpeeled, into small cubes. Add the potato, broth, all seasonings and tomatoes to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Stir in the clams, clam juice and the crackers. Simmer 4 minutes. Serve with Saltine crackers on the side.

Cook’s Note: Canned tomatoes were readily available in 1919 and appear as an option in the original recipe. We can imagine that a busy hotel kitchen would take advantage of the time savings of ready peeled and cut tomatoes and the guaranteed ripeness of canned over fresh in December.

Yield: 4 main course portions



  1. Hummm…….I would like to taste this. looks good

  2. Looks yummy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: