In chapter 15 of “Moby Dick”, Melville’s narrator and alterego, Ishmael, waxes rhapsodic at the sight and smell of a steaming bowl of clam chowder served up by the proprietress of the Try Pots Inn on Nantucket: “Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! The whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”
Nantucket and New Bedford, where theMorgan was launched in 1841 andMelville set his famous novel’s opening scene, were among the busiest whaling ports in New England. They were also among the last places whalers enjoyed a decent home-cooked meal, which included chowder, a seaman’s favorite, although this signature New England soup was sometimes served on board as well.
“I think the captain’s cabin got chowder more often then the men in the fo’c’sle [the forecastle, or forward part of the ship, where the main crew lived and ate],” said food historian Sandy Oliver, editor and publisher of Food History News (foodhistory news.com). Oliver is the author of “Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Food, at Sea and Ashore, in the Nineteenth Century”, a definitive book on the subject, and founded the hearth cooking program atMystic Seaport in