Grandmother’s Corn Chowder and Other Holiday Treats

Reconnect with the East End’s culinary past by recreating this 1800s-era recipe in the present.

‘Tis the season when the home hearth starts to beckon. And the ramp up to Thanksgiving and Christmas is also when cooks get back in the kitchen. It’s also a great time to try out new recipes and rekindle cooking skills.

We have experience with the hurdle of cooking, despite the abundance around. Our contributor Evan Harris has written more than once about getting over her cooking phobias by enlisting friends to teach her how to roast a chicken, make crackers or shape the perfect fish cake.

It’s also a great time to geek out on the cooking of older days and ways which offers so much wisdom to our modern DIY minds. Consider the ingenious “mammy rocker”—“a low-backed bench on rocking chair legs, it has a removeable crib-type guard rail shielding half its length, enabling mother to rock while shucking the corn on one side while her baby could sleep without rolling off the other.”

Mammy rockers enabled mothers to shuck corn while rocking their babies.

Look at our profile of the East Hampton Historical Societies cooking exhibition a few years back, and you plainly see that we used to cook a lot more. And more was home-made than store-bought, including items like butter and bread and pies (savory and sweet), the equivalent of today’s kombucha and yogurt making kits.

For us we plan to add this chowder recipe to our culinary toolkit. The main ingredients—corn, potatoes and onions—will all be readily available at local farm stores at least until Thanksgiving and beyond for the root crops. And the creamy meal will fill bellies with the warm nourishment that helps us ease into, and endure, the cold season.

This recipe for Grandmother Miller’s Corn Chowder is found in the book, Put in a Pinch of British Soldiers.

From the book, Put in a Pinch of British Soldiers: Recipes, Rarities and Reminiscences from the Kitchens of Sag Harbor, by Arlene and Bill Ball.

Grandmother Miller’s Corn Chowder, an 1800’s Sag Harbor recipe handed down to the Whaling Museum’s Curator, Yvonne Miller Welch. It’s one part of the museum’s collection, which in addition to artifacts and equipment from the village’s gilded whaling history, includes rare utensils and furniture used in 18th and 19th century kitchens.

Grandmother Miller’s Corn Chowder

  • 6 medium Long Island potatoes
  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 medium onion
  • Milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  1. Pare and dice potatoes and partially cook in salted water to cover.
  2. Cut, then scrape kernels from shucked fresh corn, leaving cobs clean.
  3. Add corn to potatoes (in water) and the finely chopped onion. Cook together until potatoes are tender.
  4. Into this mixture pour fresh milk to the desired thickness.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Top each serving with a lump of butter and chopped parsley from the garden if you have some.
  7. Makes approximately four bowls or six cups.

(Note from granddaughter: canned cream style corn is a delicious substitute when fresh corn is not available.)

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Brian is the editor in chief of Edible East End, Edible Long Island, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn. He writes from his home in Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his family tend a home garden and oysters. He is also obsessed with ducks, donuts and dumplings.