Clam Chowder would have been better named Indigenous Chowder
most classic Fourth of July foods are based in authentic Native
cuisine, but for the first 100 years after the pilgrims arrived,
they wouldn't even eat the foods Europeans now claim as their
own. (photo iStock)
The most classic Fourth of July foods are based in authentic
Native cuisine, but for the first 100 years after the pilgrims arrived,
they wouldn't even eat the foods Europeans now claim as their own.
That's right. New England Clam Chowder would have been better
named Indigenous Chowder, according to Lorén Spears, Narragansett,
executive director of the Tomaquag
Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island. And turkey was only part of
the first Thanksgiving feast. A clambake steeped with shellfish,
lobsters, was also served on that dubious day.
should be called Indigenous Clam Chowder. (photo iStock)
According to History.com,
lobster was so prevalent in New England waters, they washed up on
shore in piles two-feet deep, and Northeastern Natives used them
for bait and fertilizer, or steamed them to delicious perfection
in a plush bed of seaweed.
The crusty crustaceans were so abundant, New England colonizers
considered them best served to the poor. Prisoners and slaves were
the unlucky diners, as were lofty servants who wrote into their
contracts they could only be served shellfish twice a week. It wasn't
until the 1880s that people in New York and Boston started appreciating
lobsters for the delicacy they are, and so of course, they raised
Today, lobsters fetch about $10 a pound and an average serving
of lobster weighs between a pound and a half to two pounds. In 2013,
according to Woodsman.com,
Maine lobstermen hauled in close to 126 million pounds, the second
highest amount since the Department
of Marine Resources began keeping records.
But lobster wasn't the only shellfish snubbed by the settlers.
Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking authors Keith
Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald wrote, "The Indian enthusiasm for
clams undoubtedly lowered their value in English eyes," and were
often served to pigs.
It wasn't until the 1740s that clams were included in "the edible
and enjoyable category," and two decades after that, the founders
of Plymouth's "Old Colony Club" realized that the hard and soft
shelled mollusks were plentiful, delicious, and worthy of praise.
The "clam had secured a place
on a par with venison, apple
pie, eel, and oysters," wrote Stavely and Fitzgerald.
Sayet, Mohegan food expert, offers suggestions for books to
learn about original Native cuisine books that the
Mohegan Library has available. (photo by Christina Rose)
beer originated from New England's sassafras tree, the first
tree exported to Europe from the New World. (photo Wikipedia)
While corn did not suffer a similar snubbing, in the pilgrim's
first cookbook, American
Cookery by orphan Amelia Simmons, it was referred to as "Indian"
food and in traditional European fare, "Indian meal," or corn, replaced
oats in several recipes.
America loves to discover things and call them their own, and
too often credit is not given where credit is due. Mohegan foodie
and essential oil specialist Rachel Sayet smiled wryly and said,
"Our people in this area (New England) ate clam chowder long before
the colonists came, but they still look at it as Yankee food. It
is still one of the most popular Native foods in New England, and
we are really proud of it. We love to say that it is one of our
If you would like to enjoy the ancient indigenous clambake,
you can order it online. One site offers a meal of lobsters for
four, four pounds of steamer clams, and clam chowder for $150
quite the hike in price from when Natives would simply forage
Make some cornbread and serve root beer at your clambake to
celebrate yet another Native tradition, minus the bubbles. Root
beer originated from New England's sassafras tree, the first tree
exported to Europe from the New World. It is still used in Native
circles for its tastiness and healing properties. Mother
Earth News reports it can be used as a blood purifier, to reduce
fevers, relieve eye irritation and act as a disinfectant in dental
surgery it has even been thought to cure syphilis and gonorrhea.
Tomaquag Museum was first founded as the Tomaquag Indian Memorial
Museum by archaeologist Eva Butler and Narragansett/Pokanoket Wampanoag
historian and educator Mary E. Glasko, also known as Princess Red
Wing of the Seven Crescents, first opening in 1958 in Tomaquag Valley,
a hamlet in Ashaway Rhode Island.