Soda crackers made clam chowder fabulous — thanks Mom | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Hello, Mom? Warning: For those readers who may be allergic to “maudlin,” read no further.

Hello, Mom?

Warning: For those readers who may be allergic to “maudlin,” read no further.

“Hi, Mom; it’s Margy. I haven’t talked to you lately, so just thought I’d give you a call and find out what’s new with you and Dad and any other news.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past years since she died that those words have flitted through my head and I’ve almost reached for the phone to call Mom. We talked every week at least once, sometimes more if there was some family event or occurrence we wanted to discuss.

Her name was Joetta, also called “Jo” by my dad and some of her friends. She was good looking all her life, even when she was in her 90s. She was also physically strong, as well as strong-minded, opinionated, intelligent, well-read and outspoken. She was a stay-at-home mom (few mothers worked back in those days) of four children, and each of us learned at some point very early in our life that Joetta (aka Mom) had rules we would live by, and she tolerated no nonsense, rebellion, sass or disobedience. One step out of line and we got “the look,” and we knew what it meant (“Go to your room, close the door and don’t come out until I say so.”) She never physically laid a hand on us; she didn’t have to.

Joetta had beautiful long, naturally curly,  black hair, which she usually wore up in a “bun” on the back of her head, but in the evenings before bed and early mornings, her hair hung down her back in shining curls. From the time I was about 6 until I left for college, she would often ask me to brush her hair for her, usually for about 10 to 15 minutes, and I loved to do it. I wanted to have hair like hers; it didn’t work out quite that way, unfortunately.

Joetta was an excellent, creative cook, a dedicated homemaker doing all her own housework (with the help of all four of us kids as she taught us how to do various chores up to her standards), an excellent bridge player (I learned to play and still think of her when I do), loved to give dinner parties, and was always dressed and pressed appropriately and immaculately, except when she was on the tide flats digging clams. Muddy was allowed then.

She was also an avid reader and whenever she had a few minutes for herself, she was on the couch, book in hand. We were never without books, and I was never scolded for reading at night, long past my bedtime, under the covers with a flashlight. Her passion for reading was passed to all four of us, then to our children and now to our grandchildren, one of the many things I’m grateful to her for giving me.

I think one of the most important things to say about Mom, however, is how much she loved my dad, and how much he loved her. They had married young, too young some thought, but their total devotion to one another was known to all, both family and friends. We kids used to joke that we knew if we were all on a sinking ship, he’d save her and she’d save him, then they’d take care of saving us. Even at the end (at age 98), when she knew she was dying, her last words were to him, spoken softly, and I saw tears form in his eyes as he listened. He later told me she had said she was sorry and that she didn’t want to leave him.

Why am I telling you now, about my mom? Mother’s Day is very near, and I would give a great deal if I could call or visit my mom on that special day. Of course, she’ll be in my thoughts, as she is every day, but I’d just like to nudge all of you readers out there who still have your mothers to treasure your time together. An extra hug, an extra “I love you Mom,” and this is but a reminder that even the best, strongest of moms won’t be around forever.

(Note: Yes, I know there are many, too many, kids out there without mothers, or with moms who are nothing but a problem, and I wish it were not so, but there are more, I’m sure, who are and/or were fortunate to have the kind of mom I had and will forever be thankful for that, and I just wanted to pay some tribute to my very special mom).


I have folders full of my mother’s recipes, going back to when she worked, right out of high school, as a fountain girl in the Athenian restaurant in the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Hard to select a few, but I’ll try.

Sunday breakfast, after church, was always special. My Dad worked shift work for many years and we all looked forward to Sunday breakfast, almost always sure to be either waffles or hotcakes. And because my Dad loved anything lemony, these Lemony Buttermilk Hotcakes were one of Mom’s often used recipes.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup lemon curd (Mom made her own; I buy it)

6 T. butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

1. Heat griddle or skillet over med. heat (or to 375 degrees). In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Stir in the buttermilk, lemon curd, 1/4 cup of the butter and the beaten egg, mixing just until blended.

2. Brush the griddle or skillet with 1 T. butter. For each hotcake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the hot griddle. Cook until bubbles form on top and edges are a bit dry, then turn and cook other side until golden. Remove and keep warm until remaining cakes are ready to serve. Brush griddle (skillet) with remaining butter as needed for each batch. Serve hotcakes with butter and syrup of choice (or natural honey, which is one of my favorite toppings.)

Because of where we lived, we ate a lot of fresh seafood and a week seldom passed without a pot of  freshly dug steamed clams on the stove for a meal. And the next day, using the clam broth and any leftover clams, we had my mom’s fabulous clam chowder. She had a much-used, then, method for thickening the chowder, and I’ve since seen that method revived and used in several up-to-date recipes. They were called “soda crackers” back when — now they’re “saltines.”


4 slices bacon, finely chopped

1 onion, chopped fine

3 cups clam broth (if you haven’t get your own from steamed clams, you’ll have to buy bottled)

2 cups water

1 1/2 lbs. (approx.) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into about 1/2-inch chunks

15-20 saltines, crushed (depending on how thick you want your chowder)

1 t. minced fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Chopped clams, whatever you have available from your steamed clam dinner; or buy chopped clams if you haven’t enough for your chowder

1 cup cream

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook bacon in a large saucepan over med. heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 T. of the bacon fat. Add onion to the pan and cook over med. heat until softened. Stir in clam broth, water, potatoes, saltines, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a boil, reduce heat to med. and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender (about 20 min.)

2. Use a slotted spoon to transfer 1/2 cup of potato pieces to a bowl; mash with a potato masher until smooth. Return them to the pot, reduce heat to low. Stir clams into the pot, remove bay leaf, and simmer until clams are warmed. Off the heat, stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper, serve. Serves 4-6.

One of my favorite after-school snacks was a special grilled cheese sandwich my grandmother made because my grandfather loved them, and Mom got from her. I still make these for myself whenever I get a craving for a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s the beans that make it different.


2 plum tomatoes, cut into thick slices

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 slices sandwich bread, toasted (she always used white; you use whatever you prefer)

1/2 cup baked beans (homemade if you have some; otherwise, your favorite, purchased. I buy the little cans of Bush’s available at some supermarkets and Walmart)

1 t. Worchestershire sauce

1 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese

2 scallions, chopped

1. Preheat broiler. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and broil until the edes brown slightly, 5-8  min. Transfer to a plate.

2. Place the toasted bread on the baking sheet and spoon beans evenly on top. Cover with the tomatoes and drizzle with the Worcestershire, then sprinkle with the cheese and scallions. Broil until golden and bubbly, about 3 min.; careful not to burn. Makes 2.

Thanks, Mom, for everything you taught me and did for me.