Mary Ellen Masters is known as the Queen of Minorcan Clam Chowder in St. Augustine and St. Johns County. Masters traces her roots back to the Minorcans who came to St. Augustine in 1777 after fleeing New Smyrna — and many believe the Minorcans brought the datil pepper with them, helping to creating a food culture that continues to appear in St. Augustine restaurant menus today.
Masters’ Minorcan chowder is a delicious concoction of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, clams and other spices, seasoned heavily with the spicy datil pepper.
Most have sampled her chowder each year at the St. Ambrose Fair, normally held in March or April (spring fair) and October (fall fair), on the grounds on the historic St. Ambrose Church in Elkton, established in the early 1800s.
She creates 100 gallons for each event and her “chowder crew” can be seen stirring five giant vats of her chowder with wooden paddles.
(Note: The St. Ambrose Fair has not been held in 2020 due to Covid-19 and we are missing the Chowder Queen’s chowder! Make your own with her shared recipe. See the list of restaurants below serving chowder in November 2020 during the all-new progressive Chowder Debate.)
Her recipe below was published many years ago in The St. Augustine Record.
Minorcan Clam Chowder by Mary Ellen Masters
1 lb. frozen chopped clams
1/2 lb. salt pork, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 lb. potatoes, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 medium bell pepper, diced
1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato puree
1 can clam juice
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. marjoram
2 bay leaves
3 datil peppers, diced
Fry down salt pork until browned. Add onions, celery and bell peppers and cook until tender. Add tomatoes and continue cooking. Boil potatoes in another pot until 3/4 done; drain. Mix cooked down tomato seasoning and dry seasoning with potatoes and clam juice. You may not need all the clam juice, depends on the consistency that you want. Add clams and diced datil peppers. Cook until clams are done.