Labor Day in Westport

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Every Labor Day in Westport, a bunch of local families get together for fish chowder. The tradition dates back, incredibly, to 1906, and the idea is that you come with your own bowl, spoon, and beverages, pay $2.50 towards the cost of the food, and dig in and socialize. Decades back, people used to meet on a rocky island in the middle of the Westport River. Now, they congregate in the more easily accessible backyard of a volunteer.

This year, I was part of a group of about 10 women that helped prep the ingredients — 20 pounds of onions to be chopped, potatoes to be cut into wedges (the thin end of the wedge dissolves into the chowder as it cooks and adds body, while the thick end remains intact enough to eat), and fish fillets (cod and haddock) to be cut into 2-inch chunks. Here we all are with the potatoes:

The men then take over and cook the chowder over an outdoor fire according to an old recipe that has plenty of quirky instructions (start the fire with 2 pages from the New York Times, and so on), and people show up around noon — though the chowder’s never done that soon — to eat. There are usually plenty of kids running around with one another, while the adults sit or stand and chat. It’s a very cool tradition and a great send-off to the summer.

Here’s my bowl of half-eaten chowder:

Hope you had a restful holiday!

2 thoughts on “Labor Day in Westport

  1. I had a copy of the recipe at some point, Joni, but I seem to have misplaced it. I’ll look again soon and let you know if I find it; otherwise I can try emailing one of my friends up there to see if she has it. It’d be great to see the tradition spread and evolve!

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