William Styron, the Marines and Cajun Clam Chowder

Sstyron USMC

Author William Styron in his Marine Corps uniform. He served in two wars before winning a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Photo Credit: Special Collections. Duke University Library.

I started Memorial Day by reading from William Styron’s collection of Marine Corps stories, The Suicide Run. Though he is best known as the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, he served our country as a Marine Corps officer in two wars – World War II and Korea.  The Suicide Run, published posthumously in 2009, contains five personal tales of The Marine Corps. The title story shows just how close to death a young Marine can come when he’s off the battlefield and on leave.


William Styron (1925-2006) perfected his own clam chowder recipe after growing up in Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay.

Styron, who admits being influenced by William Faulkner and Walker Percy, was a Virginia-born writer who lived and wrote in Roxbury, Conn., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. His culinary taste seems to blend the best of these worlds – he liked Virginia ham and clam chowder.

Though many of us think of clam chowder as a New England “northern” food, Styron grew up near Newport News on Chesapeake Bay where clam chowder is a “southern staple.”  In 1984 Styron shared his personal recipe for clam chowder with Esquire magazine. The month’s issue of Garden & Gun (June/July 2016) features an article by his daughter Alexandra. In  “My Father’s Ham” she describes Styron’s love for Virginia ham and his cooking methods. Thanksgiving at the Styron’s home started with a course of clam chowder. Christmas dinner featured Virginia ham.

Regardless of the season, Bill Styron, the strapping Marine, would have probably enjoyed Cajun Chowder-Gumbo. Here are three variations on the recipe – one without a roux, one with a roux, and one without clams. The first calls for peeled, baked potatoes. Note that in his recipe, however, Styron recommended leaving on the peelings.

Bowl of Delicious Fresh Steamer Clams with Garlic and Basil on rFat Tuesday’s Famous Cajun Clam Chowder
By Teresa A Reaves

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped (medium dice)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and finely diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cored and finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and finely diced
  • 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup cream sherry
  • 2 cups chopped clams, fresh or canned (reserve juice from clams if using canned)
  • 3 cups clam juice (use all bottled clam juice or clam juice drained from canned clams plus bottled juice)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 tablespoons clam paste (or use clam base or a fish bouillon cube)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken base
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup fresh chopped chives
  • 4 ounces bacon, finely diced, cooked until brown, drained lightly
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (Paul Prudhomme brand or other blend)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon lemon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups diced canned tomatoes (undrained)
  • 2 3/4 cups tomato puree OR 1 can (12 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart whipping cream
  • 1 quart milk
  • 2 cooked baked potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch, MIXED WITH 1/2 cup water (until smooth)

Heat olive oil in large sauté pan. Add onion, carrots, celery, bell peppers and garlic; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add sherry and cook over medium heat until liquid is reduced by two-thirds. Add clams, clam juice, stock, clam paste and chicken base, bacon, seasonings, tomatoes, puree and water.

Bring to low boil and cook, uncovered, for 1 hour. While stirring, add cream, milk and potatoes. Reduce to simmer. Gradually thicken with cornstarch and water mixture. Consistency should be thick enough to coat back of spoon. Cook until heated through. Taste and adjust spices if needed. Reprinted from http://blog.oregonsadventurecoast.com/chowder-recipes/

If you’d prefer your chowder to have a roux, try Rooster’s Clam Chowder (aka gumbo). And if you don’t want any seafood at all, there’s Lemony Thyme’s  Cajun Corn Chowder.

Last year for Memorial Day, The Daily Beast reprinted an old interview with Bill Styron – it’s interesting reading any day.

About thegumbodiaries

On the search for the perfect gumbo!
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2 Responses to William Styron, the Marines and Cajun Clam Chowder

  1. The recipe looks fabulous. The story of Styron is much appreciated; again, a southern writer I have not read but will now. I found the Daily Beast interview a small text book, its long enough, on writing in general and recommend your followers go to the link and take time to absorb the good advice and excellent examples provided not only by Styron but by Philip Caputo. Another reich blog post! Got to try that clam chowder….


  2. It was my first time to read Styron, too, though I’d heard much about him. I was not disappointed in his caliber of writing, but I admit I needed the dictionary nearby. Thank you for reading.


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