Coney Island Clam Chowder

The estival attractions of Coney Island were such that few late nineteenth-century New Yorkers could resist them. Each weekend crowds of weary shopgirls, clerks, bricklayers and jobbers of every stripe would flock to its white-sand beaches, making their way by train or foot for a weekend seaside idyll, which provided welcome respite from their urban toil.

An article in the July 1896 edition of Scribner’s Magazine reports that the majority of Coney Island pleasure seekers came from the ranks of the middle and lower middle classes, people who enjoyed such meager leisure time that they could ill-afford long schleps upstate. “Evidence that Coney Island’s crowds are made up most largely of those who are town-stayed all summer, lies in the color of the crowd’s hands and faces,” article author Julian Ralph writes. “From the waxen whiteness of the women and girls whose waking hours are spent amid gaslight, to the pinker hue of the men who have leisure to walk to and from luncheon — if not to business — every morning the color of all is the same and only the shades of it differ.”

To have a seaside retreat just minutes from the grinding business of a big city these “town-stayed” types considered a great boon, indeed. “How much more admirable, how almost blessed, Coney Island seems in the light of these facts!”, Ralph enthuses. How absolutely fantastic to “get a new environment and have old ocean’s pure tonic breath blow the cobwebs out of our brain — and then, as the chronicler saith, ‘get home at a reasonable time.'” Coney Island afforded industrious workers their splendor in the sand without making them late for work on Monday.

Perhaps after splashing in the dark blue water, walking barefoot on the sand, and while waiting for the city train to depart, waxen women and girls or the pink-faced businessmen enjoyed a quick bowl of Coney Island Clam Chowder, the recipe for which is reprinted in the 1929 cookbook, The Modernistic Recipe-Menu Book.

Coney Island Clam Chowder

1 tablespoon, chopped salt pork
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 doz. clams
1 cup cubed potato
1/2 cup cubed carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 qt. water
1/2 cup tomato
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/16 teaspoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon shortening

Brown salt pork and onions together, clean and pick over clams, reserving liquor; chop finely. Cook potatoes, carrots and celery in boiling salted water until almost done. Add clam liquor, salt pork and onions, clams and tomatoes. Season and stir in shortening just before serving. Serves six.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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