Boston clam chowder dish includes clams that come from the Pacific Northwest, onions, potatoes and, of course, bacon. (Contributed)

It was cold and raining (when hasn’t it been?) as I stepped from my warm car in front of Stagnaro’s Fish Market on the Santa Cruz wharf yesterday. 

Usually, I love to spend an extra minute or two, perusing their showcases filled with seafood straight from our waters and am always looking for an unfamiliar variety of fish they may be introducing. That morning, however, I was after the 32-ounce cans of clams that come from our cold Pacific Northwest waters.

I explained to Robbie I would be making Boston clam chowder for the Soup and Salad luncheon at the Scotts Valley Senior Center this week. Robbie and I talked about the Pacific Northwest razor clams that I always keep in my freezer for a fried clam or chowder dinner.

I told Robbie about my growing up in the ‘40s in the little town of Aberdeen, Wash., which is 18 miles north of Westport, a well-known fishing village known mostly for the Ocean Spray cranberry growing grounds and cannery.

My family would all congregate in Westport and spend the early morning hours at “low tide” digging for those razor clams. Once their limits were reached, we would go to the camping grounds nearby, clean the clams and then have a fried clam dinner, along with potato salad, baked beans and always my aunt Betty’s apple pie.

Family arguments and feuds were put away for that day while talk was about how the war was progressing, who had letters from their sons and wondering what country they were fighting in. Each of those letters were postmarked from San Francisco and all had been opened and/or censored. Letting the “enemy” know what was happening was forbidden in case those letters fell into the wrong hands.

I can’t imagine how painful not knowing where my son or daughter was located was to my family; I was too young to realize the danger they were facing.

And then Robbie and my conversation turned back to those unusual clams and the various varieties we were familiar with. We both agreed the Geoduck was the most unusual. 

The Geoduck’s shell is in the shape of a hotdog bun, with its digger protruding from one end and its neck from the opposite. The clams can weigh up to 8 lbs. and can be 20 inches long, and believe it or not, the oldest clam ever caught was 168 years old. Personally, I will not eat this mollusk as its meat is tough and chewy.

California is known for its Pismo clam. In the early 1980s, this clam disappeared. No one really knew why, and researchers were busy trying to reintroduce these clams, when in 2021, millions of the clams mysteriously showed up on the beaches in the town of Pismo Beach, Calif.

Today, Pismo clams can be harvested if you pay for a license. You will be able to take 10 clams that have attained 4-1/2 inches in width. At this size, the clams are about 5 years old, and the oldest is known to be 48 years old.

In the 1950s, if you went to a Chinese restaurant, often you would be served as a first course, a clear soup with three or four tiny one-half inch clams in the bottom of the bowl. I believe these were the Coquina clams that Florida and Spain’s beaches are covered with. I don’t know where the Chinese restaurants purchased them or even why this tradition disappeared. But in Spain, these are steamed in butter and served along with tiny forks as an appetizer.

As I was leaving the market and getting into my car, Robbie was calling to me from the sidewalk. “Bacon, do you put bacon in your chowder?” he yelled. “Of course I do,” I yelled back. “It wouldn’t be chowder if it didn’t include lots of bacon.”

Satisfied with my reply, Robbie waved me on, and as I drove through the ticket gate, I had a smile on my face…another wonderful morning at our beautiful Santa Cruz wharf.

Boston Clam Chowder

(aka New England Chowder; serves 6)

4 Russet Potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a pot add potatoes and add one 6 oz. bottle of clam nectar, juice from the can of clams and enough water if needed to barely cover potatoes. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, just until almost tender. Set aside and DO NOT DRAIN.

Dice 8 slices of bacon and fry until not quite crisp and set aside. Do not drain.

Melt one cube of butter in a pan and add:

4 cups diced yellow onion

1 cup thinly sliced celery

¼ cup diced carrots

2 cloves of garlic, minced.

2 tsp. ground thyme.

2 tsp. Tabasco Sauce

1 tsp. black pepper

Sauté until onions are translucent.

In a large soup pot add all ingredients together. Simmer over medium heat for one-half hour.

Add 4-6 cups half and half cream. 

On very low heat, cook until chowder has thickened. You can always make a slurry of a tablespoon or two of flour and mix with cream to make your chowder thicker.

When your chowder has heated through, add one 32oz. can of clams. Simmer until hot. DO NOT ALLOW CHOWDER TO BOIL. The cream will separate and the clams will toughen.

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Previous articleBig Basin Water Company moves toward receivership
Next article‘The Humans’ arrives at Ben Lomond’s Park Hall
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here