Is It Actually Illegal To Add Tomatoes To Clam Chowder In Maine?
While every state, including Maine, is ripe with laws that feel outdated and disconnected, one story keeps popping up on Reddit feeds over and over again. Many believe that there is actually an existing law in Maine that punishes people for adding tomatoes to their clam chowder. As wild and laughable as that may seem, it's not just the work of someone's imagination on the internet.
According to the New England Historical Society, a Maine representative by the name of Cleveland Sleeper introduced a bill to the legislature in 1939 that would have made adding tomatoes to clam chowder illegal statewide. If a restaurant or individual was caught serving such a concoction, their penalty would be to dig up a barrel of clams at high tide. At the time, Sleeper believed he had enough support to pass the bill into law but before a vote was brought to the floor, a duel of sorts was proposed.
The Maine Hotel Association offered to have a clam chowder duel with Sleeper bringing his chef to make a classic creamy chowder against a chef from Philadelphia making his tomato-based chowder. The two chowders would be judged by esteemed luminaries and could settle the debate on which chowder was the best. The New England clam chowder was victorious without incident. Rather than put a law into place, headlines brought shame to those who would dare consider adding tomato to a New England treasure.
The tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder has plenty of fans worldwide. But you won't find it on many, if any, menus throughout Maine. Law or not, there's a certain style of clam chowder we like in New England and that may never change.