POST MILLS, Vt. - There are legions of clam chowder devotees out there. Some are transplanted Dakotans who live on the seafood-rich coasts; others are inland flatlanders who believe that good chowder can be had a thousand miles from the ocean. Responses to last week's column came from chowder aficionados who appreciated my quest for the best bowl, even if they did not agree with my ultimate selection of the marvelous clams-in-the-shell chowder served at Latham House Tavern in Lyme, N.H. Here's a sample.
A midwesterner who lived in Rhode Island said he enjoyed superior chowders along that state's long coast. He said he never saw a presentation like the whole-clam bowl at Latham House Tavern, but the traditional fare was among the best he'd had. He also said Red Sox Fenway Park sells a passable chowder.
I say: Never thought of that option. Last time I was in Boston, I slobbered down a Fenway Frank. I think it's still sitting in my gut. I considered calling my Fargo banker to secure a loan to pay for the iconic hotdog and a Coke. Maybe chowder would have been the smarter purchase.
A Fargo homebody took offense at my implied contention that good clam chowder can be found only in New England. "What kind of snooty talk is that?" he said. "I've had very good clam chowder in North Dakota restaurants, right here in Fargo and Moorhead. How dare you say they don't get it right here in town. Darn uppity, if you ask me."
I didn't mean to be uppity, but there is a difference between chowder made from dockside fresh clams and locally sourced ingredients, and the goo in cans and bags from restaurant food services and on supermarket shelves. That said, there might be a place in Fargo or Moorhead that makes chowder from scratch, using fresh littleneck or cherrystone clams, and herbs and potatoes from local gardens. Hope so. If so, I'll find it.
For real local flavor, can't beat this: A reader who grew up on a farm near the meanders of the Sheyenne River where it curves north in southeastern North Dakota,recalled what has to be the most unique "clam" chowder of all. His Norwegian mother would send him and his brother to the river to pry off freshwater mussels from bridge pilings. They'd haul home a bucket of the blue-black bivalves, his mom would shuck them out of the shells, dice 'em and mix them with potatoes, spices and herbs in a creamy soup that simmered into a hearty chowder. "Never had store-bought or restaurant clam chowder when we were kids," he said, "but the soup she made was good. We ate fish from the river, walleyes mostly, but it's that mussel chowder (mom insisted we call it her special clam soup) that I remember most. Probably because it was hard work pickin' mussels in that muddy river. We kids really liked the soup. Dad tolerated it because mom made it, you know."
I ask: Anyone else had chowder made from Sheyenne River mussels? Sounds intriguing. Might rank with the Latham House Tavern's recipe. I'd love to find out.