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Ongoing debate over authentic clam chowder

Baked beans and brown bread, Indian Pudding, clam rolls, and boiled dinners - all are New England dishes served at tables throughout this six-state region. But when one homes in on the state of Maine, it's clear that Mainers cherish some of these regional standards more than others - clam chowder, for instance.

Mainers are very particular about which ingredients should and should not be included in a chowder. Indeed, controversy over the difference between Maine clam chowder and that prepared in other Eastern states has raged for many years. In 1939, a state legislator named Seeder introduced a bill to make it illegal to add tomatoes to the pot. Maine chowder is made with bits of salt pork, onions, potatoes, and milk. Most Mainers agree that there should be no herbs added, and that the broth should be of milk with no thickening. A half cup or so of canned evaporated milk is, however, acceptable.

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Rhode Island chowder, as well as that called Manhattan clam chowder, uses tomatoes instead of a milk broth, and some say the same tomato-clam stew has been found in old cookbooks in many parts of New England.

Here is a recipe for New England clam chowder from Mildred Schrumpf of Orono, Maine, known as ``Brownie'' to readers of her 35-year-old Wednesday food column, ``Brownie's Kitchen,'' in the Bangor Daily News. Brownie's Clam Chowder 1/8 pound salt, pork, in fine dice 2 large onions, peeled, thin sliced 6 medium potatoes, peeled, thin sliced 1 1/2 cups water 1 pint shucked clams and liquor 1 quart milk 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Render or ``try out'' salt pork in large heavy kettle over medium heat. Remove and save when golden brown. Leave liquid or drippings. Saut'e onions and potatoes in drippings about 5 minutes. Add water, cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Strain clam liquor and add to kettle with clams. Heat 2 to 3 minutes, no longer. Remove from heat.

In large saucepan, heat milk just to steaming point. Ladle some into chowder mixture, then add the rest, stirring gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cool uncovered about 30 minutes, then set uncovered in refrigerator until 10 minutes before serving. Reheat slowly, just until steam rises on top. Do not boil. Stir in reserved pork, ladle into soup plates.

Serves 6 to 8.

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On Down East cooking

Moose to Moose, by Avis Layman (Partridge Island Pub., Portland, Maine, $15.95). This book is full of straightforward, interesting recipes from a Maine chef who has cooked for the rich and famous and is still close to the heritage of her homeland.

The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery, by Judith and Evan Jones (Random House, $22.50). Not a collection of nostalgic recipes, but a book of New England cooking for today by two authorities on good American cooking.

The New Maine Cooking, by Jean Ann Pollard, (Lance Tapley Pub., Augusta, Maine, $12.95). As the title implies, these recipes are very new, with such additions to the local fare as soybeans, tofu, grains, and ideas gleaned from the author's travels.

Good Maine Food, by Marjorie Mosser (Down East Pub., Camden, Maine, $5.95). Personal and family recipes that were favorites of noted Maine author Kenneth Roberts, who helped his niece compile this cookbook.

The Yankee Cookbook, by Imogene Wolcott (Stephen Greene Press, $10.95). This book, reprinted several times, has become a classic. It contains many homely and amusing anecdotes.

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