Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chowder Dustup: Raging Bull

Those of you who read yesterday's post may have noticed that I did not name the author of the chowder article on the National Public Radio website that prompted me to rise so vigorously in defense of traditional New England chowder.

Well, the author has unmasked himself. He is Kevin Weeks, a chef in Knoxville, Tennessee, who also writes a weekly column for the Spot-On website as well as maintaining his own highly literate food blog, Seriously Good. As if that didn't keep him busy enough, he is also one of the triumvirate writing a very thoughtful and worthy blog detailing the craft of bread making, A Year in Bread.

Clearly, a food writer to be reckoned with.

Kevin must be commended for his gracious response to my review of his NPR take on chowder, in which he asserted that just about anything with chunky bits of food in it qualifies as a chowder. He even said that he has "had many of the same thoughts" as those I propounded here yesterday--saying to Kevin, in essence, that his premise just don't hold water.

I did get a bit of a spanking from some of Kevin's fans, one of whom suggested I am at times "brusque." Well, read the mission statement, folks. I didn't sign up for a popularity contest. I've already spent a career in the traditional media, having my thoughts trimmed and colorized by editors and corporate owners. I've staked out a small territory here in the non-profit blogosphere, and I plan to defend it. Fellow bloggers may wander into my sights. I intend to show neither fear nor favor. I do pledge never to write with malice, and will try to maintain a sense of humor.

In his post last night--titled Ed, You Ignorant Slut--Kevin conceded a little in the debate over what constitutes a true chowder. But he also mounted a robust defense of his own. He referenced definitions of chowder from several well-respected sources: Food Lover's Companion, The Food Encyclopedia, and The Joy of Cooking.

I think it only fair that I should come clean with the sources for my own adherence to a more Luddite view of chowder. Besides the more or less annual summer vacations and personal chowder making in Maine over the last dozen years, these would include Good Maine Food, by Marjorie Mosser; Mainstays of Maine, by Robert P. Tristam Coffin; Downeast Chowder in Serious Pig, by John Thorne; and 50 Chowders, by Jasper White.

Perhaps at a later point readers will allow me to describe my own favorite method for making a chowder. For now, I will leave the subject with thanks to Kevin Weeks for being such a good sport. I don't think there's anything wrong with fellow bloggers duking it out occasionally over subjects they feel passionately about. I also give you this portrait of a chowder by Robert P. Tristam Coffin in Mainstays of Main:

"Cod's-head chowder: The first ingredient is the outdoors. And a blazing blue, hot Maine Summer's day. And the place should be an island. And you should catch the cod yourself and cook them, with the sea still kicking in them, before they are done flapping, in an old-fashioned iron kettle. But failing the outdoors, an island off the Maine coast, and fish you have just caught yourself, you can do a lot by bringing an iron kettle, a hot fire, and some very fresh young codfish together. You begin with salt pork, as usual. You fry it out in the kettle till it is dark brown, then throw in onions and fry them till they squirm brown. Then douse in water and bring it to a boil. Throw in sliced or diced potatoes and get them boiling. In with your fish then, heads and all, with only the eyes extracted. Cook till the fish begin to flake apart. Now put the kettle on the back of the stove, and add milk--as much as you think is right--which has already been scalded, to prevent its curdling. Pour it in slow, flavor to spread. Then put in Boston crackers--the round, tough crackers made without shortening--to float and soak up the flavor, and salt and pepper to taste. And there you are. If you don't think the world is a fine place to be in, in spite of wars and taxes, after that, then you are a person who has a soul that could be put in a peanut shell, and you are beyond redemption. If you could wait two days to eat the chowder, you would be even happier."

In my world, Mr. Coffin says it all. A true chowder is infused with meaning, with associations of time and place that are immutable and form our collective food memory. The other stuff--the asparagus, the squash, the mushrooms, the tomatoes--are merely evidence of a food apparatus that marches to no particular drummer, the transitory figments of a chef's longing to create something memorable out of thin air.

And Kevin, the bowl of potato soup you couldn't resist posting on your blog last night looks very tasty. It might even qualify as a chowder.

(To read Kevin's full reply, go here.)

9 comments:

MA said...

Eddie? A slut? Maybe for food.

I happen to have some yukon golds, some bacon, plenty of onions, cream and you know where this is going. It is 59 degrees and gettting colder and maybe rain. Perfect day for chowdah.

Ed Bruske said...

I concur. I'm getting a real taste for chowdah right about now. Maybe with a nice Chardonnay. Sounds like Sunday supper...

cookiecrumb said...

I'm the "brusque" accuser. Just so you know... Because there's so much you don't know! That's the thing about these blogs...
I used to be a print journalist too. In the food section, oftentimes.
So you're not the only one.
That's why it's safest to hone your comments as if "you don't know!"
All said, I definetly intend to return here.

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks for the advice.
You're on my list, so I see your stuff on a regular basis.
Yes, I did know you were the author of "brusque." Pretty accurate. I do tend to rant.
So mysterious. I wonder what it is I don't know...

Anonymous said...

cookiecrumb, in the words of George Katanza's father, it's you "who don't know nuthin." In fact, there is no "thing about these blogs." That's why we call them blogs. While there might be a thing about CBS and NBC, there aint no thing about blogs. Hone your own cookie batter honey pot! And while doing so, dare to be brusque.

Andrea said...

Hey! I like your writing. (Found you from Kevin's blog.) I wil be back!

Who knew chowder could be so interesting?

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks for visiting, Andrea. I think Kevin secretly was doing me a favor when he moved this discussion to his blog. And, yes, there is a whole world of chowders out there waiting to be discovered.

Kevin said...

Ed,
I thoroughly enjoyed our little contretemps. We'll have to disagree again sometime.

kitchenmage said...

Lord, I read that as "God's Head Chowder" and thought...well, you don't want to know what I thought.