The Once-A-Year Chowder

Last night as I made the last pot of Christmas Chowder, I thought of where the recipe for it had originated. “Christmas Chowder” is really a fabulous seafood chowder, and every Christmas Eve my grandmother, “Ba,” put it on the dining room table with a proud flourish. We ate it with oyster crackers, her homemade watermelon pickles, and my mother’s homemade Parker House rolls.

I realize now that Ba saved all year long to buy the expensive ingredients for that chowder. She never mentioned it, never complained; she did it out of pure love. The look on her face as we all moaned with happiness over that magnificent chowder was enough for her.

When she died, my mother made that same chowder every Christmas Eve. It was always wonderful, and it was a beautiful remembrance of Ba and her love for us all.

Now that I am the last survivor, I make the chowder each year. And each time I make it, I remember with gratitude all those loving hands that made it for me for so many years.

Food made with love is love in action. It isn’t just the food itself, it’s the time and love and generosity that goes with it. I cannot count all the hugs and kisses my grandmother bestowed on me; but I remember how it felt to be loved so unconditionally.

I remember especially that first Christmas without Ba; it was hard in so many ways. Ba was Christmas for me. She made Christmas magic like no other; I think that she became a child again herself at Christmas.

So, in honor of all those wonderful Christmases past, I make the Christmas chowder as my grandmother and mother did; with love, with joy, reverence and remembrance. Making this chowder is a beloved tradition; as I put it together, I am back with my grandmother and my mother. I like to think that both of them are looking over my shoulder, murmuring ‘yes, that’s right; let all that seafood get used to each other—don’t rush.’

Here is the recipe if you’d like to make it yourself. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Christmas Chowder Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 c. butter

bacon (as much or as little as you like)

1 pt. oysters

1 pt. whole clams and juice

1 can minced clams and juice

1 pt. of good scallops (if large, cut them in halves)

1 pt. shrimp

1 pt. crabmeat

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. flour

1 T. paprika

1 cup light cream

2-3 cups of whole milk

salt and pepper as you like

Note: you can add lobster meat, but it tends to get tough easily.

One more important note: PLEASE do not let this chowder BOIL! You will hate yourself if you do as it will give the chowder a burned taste and you will have ruined a great supper made with some pricey ingredients. How do I know this? Because I did it once. Trust me: if you do it once, you will NEVER do it again!


Fry up some bacon in the bottom of your pot (better make it a large one as it makes a lot). Remove when crisp and put aside.

Fry up the chopped onions in the bacon grease, then add the Worcestershire sauce, the salt and pepper and the butter. Now add in the whole clams and the minced clams and their juice and bring to a boil.

Turn down to medium heat, and add the oysters. When they start to frill, start adding the other seafood (no particular order). Add the flour and paprika and stir, then add the cream and milk, and stir. Let everything simmer gently for 5-10 minutes on medium-low heat. If time permits, let the chowder cool off.

When you are ready to serve, heat the chowder up slowly on medium. Before serving, add some crumbled bacon on top of each bowl.

PS: I like to put a good chunk of butter on in the chowder before serving it; it adds richness to it. Or, as my granddaughter, Ava, likes to say, “everything’s better with butter!”