Last week I read The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky. I love reading about food and Americana, so this book--a compilation of Depression-era writings about food from an abandoned WPA project--enticed me as soon as I saw it. The division by regions gave structure to the book, and made it even more informative.
However, my favorite bit of knowledge gleaned from this book was personal. I have always felt a bit of an inferiority complex about my clam chowder. You see, it has bacon. We like it that way. I grew up with it that way. My mom made it that way, and she learned from my dad's mom. But what restaurant clam chowder has bacon? I always figured this was some Hoosierizing of the dish.
But, as I learned, I was mistaken.
One of the oft-debated, but very authentic ingredients in real New England Clam Chowder, is salt pork or bacon. Which is then removed and the onions sauteed in the grease. That's what I do. Some add it back in; some don't. I do. My grandma was a Ruhl. Her mother was a Harrod. Her grandmother was a Pipes. HER grandmother was a Harriman from New Jersey and HER mother was a Hathaway from Massachusetts.
That's in New England. That's about the only part of my family tree that has roots in New England. But I like to think that that is where the clam chowder came from.