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transition, through chowder


There's been a change in the air these last few weeks...have you felt it? Just the slightest shift in temperature, a chill in the evenings that makes sleeping with windows wide open not only possible, but pleasant. The breeze is changing, carrying with it the scent of a backyard grill, the sound of fallen leaves skipping along pavement, a smattering of goosebumps across a forearm. Afternoon light has a new quality, a dreamy, golden hue that elicits memories of high school football games, apple picking, the feel of a scarf wound loosely about the neck.

Autumn begins officially today, but I’ve seen signs of her impending arrival for most of September. I won’t deny my excitement, for this time of year is truly my favorite, but I will miss the bounties of Summer. There’s been an urgency to our visits to Charlottesville’s City Market each Saturday for three weeks now. A pressure to gather up one last load of roma tomatoes to roast, to pick up a dozen freestone peaches knowing they’ll be absent until next July, to seek out a few more ears of fresh corn before being forced to rely on the kernels stashed away at the back of the freezer.

I bought our first butternut squash just last week. It stood out in our market basket, a dull cloud against the sunset of tomatoes, peaches, and eggplant. Once home we roasted it to sweet perfection before pureeing it with celery, onions and carrots into an earthy potage. The recipe is an Autumn staple, one that will grace our table many times in the next few months. We loved the soup that night as we always do, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for it.

What I wanted instead was a chowder we’d made the week before, one that took advantage of the last of Summer’s produce while introducing the initial tastes of Autumn. Those final few ears of sweet corn, the bell and jalepeño peppers, the first potatoes and carrots of Fall, a cream base with heat that hits from the belly out, all come together to create a soup that perfectly represents this time. The transition from one season to another, from tank tops and flip flops to light jackets and closed-toe flats, embodied in a chowder.

A chowder perfect for those of us on the fence, clinging to Summer while welcoming Fall.

I mentioned, way back at the end of August, that I'd found a new trick to releasing corn kernels from their cob. Well, here it is friend.  I introduce to you the bundt pan, a vessel so perfectly designed for handling fresh corn that I feel it should be marketed in that way.  Sure, it also makes a pretty cake, but really, lots of pans can do that. The central tube fits the end of an ear of corn quite perfectly, and as you cut the kernels from the cob they fall neatly into the pan. No more corn kernels all over the counter and floor. I am probably the last to discover this handy trick, but wow, was I excited when I did. My dogs, however, miss the sweet kernels falling from above. 

Spicy Potato Corn Chowder
adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
serves 4 as a first course


  • 3 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1.75 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3.5 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalepeño peppers, minced (no seeds unless you want your soup really spicy)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 California bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk (1% or 2%)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne


  1. Cut corn from each cob.

  2. Bring cobs, water, broth, potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs.

  3. Meanwhile, cook onion, carrot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 10 minutes.

  4. Add bell pepper, jalepeño, corn, thyme, bay leaves, and one ladle of liquid from potato/corn pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.

  5. Stir in potatoes with water/broth and cream and gently boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in milk.  Be sure not to allow soup to boil after this point, as milk will curdle. Heat through, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  6. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

  7. Use an immersion blender to pureé some of the vegetables, to thicken soup.  Be sure to leave some large chunks of potatoes, peppers, and corn. If you don't have an immersion blender, ladle two scoops of soup into a regular blender and pureé, then add back to soup pot.

  8. Stir in scallions, white pepper, cayenne, and salt to taste, then serve.