Sometimes culinary treasures are found in places remote from famed restaurants and elite gourmets.
Such is the case with Bonac Clam Chowder, a savory seafood stew created by the wives of the hard working men on the very rural end of Long Island, near yet so far from New York City.
For over three hundred years, the men of Bonac, known as “Bonackers,” made their living as baymen, clammers, and farmers. Clams and clamming were at the heart of Bonac culture. Bonac culinary specialties include their very own unique form of clam chowder (traditionally, never made with milk, but always with tomatoes), clam pie and clam fritters to name just a few of the region’s shellfish specialties.
Many of the original Bonac families were among the very early settlers of the area, having come from England in the 17th and 18th centuries.
There was once even a thriving local Bonac dialect, which could be heard well into the middle of the last century. Today, the Bonac accent is in the process of being lost to the New York City speech patterns heard in the remainder of Long Island.
The Bonac accent is said to be similar to the language spoken by the early working class settlers and is akin to the accents of fishing cultures farther down the Atlantic coast in the Carolinas, where similar groups of Englishmen also settled at the same time
During the Great Depression, there was great poverty in the Island’s rural region, and the community got by, as it had for so many generations, by fishing and farming. Even as late as the 20th century, Bonas was an isolated hamlet, without bus service, train service, or even many automobiles.
As late as the 1940s, children walked some ten miles, there and back, to attend high school in the village, on Newtown Lane (where East Hampton Middle School now is). It was a very tight-knit community; the Presbyterian Church was an important gathering place.
Since the late 20th century, nearly all Bonacker clammers have been forced out of their traditional shellfish livelihoods, and found work in support industries serving the wealthy owners and weekenders flooding into the many emerging exclusive areas of Long Island.
Yet a remarkable recipe remains, that for the Bonac Clam Chowder, to remind us of a brave and remarkable community where men harvested clams from the sea and their waiting wives converted their catch into steaming bowls of a unique chowder, preserving forever both their labor and their culinary creativity.
Bonac Clam Chowder
- 2 lbs. large Taylor Clams, opened, steamed, ground
- 1/4 pound bacon, diced
- 1 cup of onion, diced
- 2 cups of carrots, diced
- 1 cup of celery, diced
- 1 quart of potatoes, diced
- 2 quarts of clam juice, mixed with water if necessary
- 1 cup of crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Brown the bacon inside the soup pot with some olive oil
- Grind up the diced vegetables
- Add the ground vegetables and the clam water to the bacon in the pot .
- Cook for 1/2 hour.
- Grind the steamed clams.
- Add to the chowder.
- Add the diced potatoes, crushed tomatoes and seasonings.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy.