Dad’s Clam Chowder

In this part of Florida we make a spicy red clam chowder laced with datil pepper.  It’s called Minorcan clam chowder after the immigrants from Minorca, Majorca and the Mediterranean who settled here before the American Revolution and created this dish using local resources.  The datil pepper is a hot pepper found in just about every native St. Augustinian’s garden.  Although our family doesn’t have any Minorcan ancestry, we do love our local Minorcan dishes that have been passed down for generations.

Dad was known for his version of Minorcan Clam Chowder.  I admit it is delicious, but I don’t think Dad deserves all the credit.  You see, Dad very seldom made Minorcan Clam Chowder.  He had an army of family members doing all the work for him.

Dad was in the Merchant Marine so he spent most of his time at sea.  When he was home during the summer, he would rent a cottage at the beach and all the family would spend a month doing all the things you do at the beach.  We kids lived in our bathing suits – swimming, fishing, boating and skiing.  Our few chores included digging clams, cleaning the catch of the day and manning the meat grinders when Dad was making chowder.  While adults did all the chopping – we were not yet old enough to handle sharp knives – we were quite capable of turning the crank on the grinder.  In addition to grinding the clams, Dad’s recipe was unusual in that he included grated potatoes and onions with the chopped ones.

Making chowder was quite a production.  Fortunately the results were of sufficient quantity that we normally only made it once during each summer vacation.  Years later, my (then soon-to-be) husband got a taste of chowder-making Barrett style as part of a clam-digging expedition in the creek behind Dad’s house.  Early one Sunday morning found us “kids” and our significant others wading around the muddy creek as Dad directed us from the seawall.  By day’s end we all went home with a generous portion of that delicious brew.  Fortunately for us, by then food processors had replaced meat grinders!

Bill Barrett's Minorcan Clam Chowder

Ingredients

  • 150 clams (or 4 lbs chopped, frozen clams)
  • 2-3 bottles clam juice
  • ½ lb salt pork, chopped
  • 2 lbs onions, 1/2 chopped and 1/2 grated
  • 2-3 cans tomatoes
  • 2 cans water
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 med bell peppers, diced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, oregano, marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 or 2 datil peppers (whole), or to taste (Scotch Bonnet or Tabasco peppers can be substituted)
  • 6 Idaho potatoes , 1/2 diced and 1/2 grated

Directions

Saute salt pork; add onions, celery, bell peppers for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, water and seasonings. Cook 15 minutes. Cook diced potatoes in a small amount of water, then add potatoes and water to above mixture. Add raw grated potatoes, clam juice, and clams.  Simmer one hour.

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