This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
Fish chowder is an ancient dish which has undergone alleged improvements. It is, originally, a sailors' stew, consisting only of fat salt pork, onions, potatoes, crackers, water, salt and pepper; stewed in a covered pot.
To make a good chowder and have it quite nice, Dispense with sweet marjoram parsley and spice; Mace, pepper and salt are now wanted alone. To make the stew eat well and stick to the bone, Some pork is sliced thin and put into the pot; Some say you must turn it, some say you must not; And when it is brown, take it out of the fat, And add it again when you add this and that. A layer of potatoes, sliced quarter inch thick, Should be placed in the bottom to make it eat slick; A layer of onions now over this place, Then season with pepper and salt and some mace.
Split open your crackers and give them a soak. In eating you'll find this the cream of the joke. On top of all this, now comply with my wish, And put, in large chunks, all your pieces of fish; Then put on the pieces of pork you have fried - I mean those from which all the fat has been tried. In seasoning I pray you, don't spare the cayenne; 'Tis this makes it fit to be eaten by men. After adding these things in their reg'lar rotation, You'll have a dish fit for the best of the nation.
Note-Fish-broth and milk are to be added.
"Every spring these parties of Congressmen and'officials used to go down the Potomac on the old steamer Salem to the fishing grounds and enjoy freshly caught shad, opened, nailed to oaken boards, and cooked before large wood fires. On one of these occasions Mr. Webster had obtained from Boston some rock cod, crackers and salt pork, and he made a chowder. He had a large kettle, and having fried his scraps, he deposited the successive layers of fish, crackers and potatoes and onions over and over until there was no more room. Then pouring in a half gallon of milk he rubbed his hands, exclaiming: "Now for the fire. As Mrs. Macbeth said: 'If 'tis to be done when 'tis done, then 'tis well 'twere done quickly.' " I quote from memory, but I shall never forget his joyous expression of countenance and the merry twinkle of his deep-set, burning black eyes. The chowder was a success, and so was a medicinal preparation of Santa Cruz rum, brandy, a dash of arrack, loaf sugar, lemons and strong iced tea.
No one who ever drank 'Marshfield Punch' forgot its seductive excellence, but some found to their sorrow that it .had a fearful kick".
A fish soup made thinner than the real chowder, which is a thick stew, is served on fish days in many hotels. (See clams).