LUCKEY - Janet Holton's love affair with clam chowder began nearly 70 years ago and many hundreds of miles away from Wood County.
"When I was a child, we would go to my mother's sister Eleanor's home in Bayville, Long Island (N.Y.), where the men would go clamming on the beach. They would come home with enough for several pots of soup."
There was only one possible recipe for clam chowder, as far as the entire family was concerned, and it had nothing to do with New England or a creamy white broth.
"My mom would never have considered calling this Manhattan Clam Chowder as this was the only one she knew," Holton said, although she realizes that's certainly what this tomato-rich, clear-broth soup would be considered by folks from other parts of the country.
The recipe Holton shares with Cook's Corner readers today is the same version that was made by her mom, her "Nana," and both of her maternal aunts.
The multi-generational clamming outings were fun for the children, no doubt about it, but they were serious business for the adults. "The men were getting food for the family. They also fished.
"I guess my parents brought home the clams to steam open so Mom would make the chowder the next day."
Although Holton is now 75, her memories of the whole process remain crystal clear.
"Sometimes we were at my grandparents' home in Brooklyn, N.Y., while the clams were being shucked - opened with a sharp knife. My grandfather, PomPom, would say 'Here, kid' and I would open my mouth for a raw clam treat.
"Neither my sister nor my cousin remember this, so it may be that, since I had the privilege of being the first grandchild, I also got a clam. Yum!"
Once she was grown and on her own, Holton took along her own copy of the recipe for clam chowder, written out in her mother Mildred's elegant handwriting. She still has that precious piece of paper today.
"I would find as a young woman, that I would get a letter from my mom noting that she had made clam chowder and I would have done the same thing.
"My sister and I find now that we are both likely to have made this wonderful soup the same week."
The mood usually seemed to strike sometime in November.
Holton, now widowed and living in a condo in Luckey, still makes a batch of chowder annually, usually sharing it with a neighbor as well as her daughter Sue, of Gibsonburg, who is the closest of her children geographically. It makes quite a good-sized amount, after all.
Back in the days "when I had a bunch of kids at home, my gosh!" It would disappear in short order.
In a way, that's a shame, since "it's so much better after it sits a day; the flavors blend and are just about terrific."
She and her husband had a blended family of seven offspring total.
The couple wed while living in upstate New York. "And my husband wanted to come out to Ohio. First we were in Delaware and later Washington Court House. But Sue wanted us closer. We moved, actually, to (Otterbein) Portage Valley," where they lived until Holton's husband's death in 1996.
Her first career was as an R.N. in obstetrics, surgical and then public health. But these days Holton fills retirement by teaching English to non-native speakers as a volunteer with Global Connections, a program coordinated by nine area churches and other ministries. She also spent the 2002-03 year teaching English in China.
For those cooks who want to try Holton's flavorful, and very healthy chowder, with its delicate herbs, chunks of potatoes and bits of clams floating in a tasty broth, she has one major caveat.
"The recipe was written for me in 1956, but it's not duplicatable today."
That's because the original version calls for salt pork.
Holton visited Frobose Meat Locker at Pemberville this week and learned that salt pork is not regularly available. She called meat markets in Bowling Green and elsewhere and heard the same, although supermarkets might be a different story.
"My mom's younger sister Betty," who at 85 still makes the chowder, "tells me even in 1956 salt pork was getting hard to find."
The suggested substitute is bacon, although, as a healthier alternative, Holton prefers to use 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, instead.
Manhattan clam chowder
1/4 lb lean salt pork-- cut up fine or put through coarse grinder
OR 1/4 lb. bacon
OR 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 large onions -- chopped (2 cups)
3 large russet potatoes -- peeled and cubed (4 cups)
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. leaf thyme
1 large can tomatoes
1 1/2 doz. chowder clams and juice
OR 3 cans minced clams and
1 bottle clam juice
2 quarts water
Fry bacon or pork until browned, (or heat vegetable oil in large soup pot) add onions, cook until yellow. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper leaf thyme. Add water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and bring to a boil again. Add clams and juice. Simmer about an hour or so. Makes a generous 4 quarts of soup. Chowder is much better the second day after flavors have blended.
If you use the salt pork (or bacon) cook in large heavy frying pan; when browned add onions and cook till yellow. Use slotted spoon to transfer pork/bacon and onions to soup pot.
* I never use the salt pork anymore, as I prefer the healthier vegetable oil. I do miss the bits of well done salt pork floating on the top of the soup.