March 16, 2010

Seafood chowder loses its crunchy companion


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Staff Writer


Nabisco Crown Pilot crackers -- the large, flat, plain biscuits beloved by Mainers and other New Englanders for crumbling in chowder -- are no longer being made.

Those rattled by the news include Donna Damon of Chebeague Island. She urged pilot cracker lovers on Thursday to contact Nabisco and voice their objections.

Understandably, Chebeague residents are particularly upset to learn that production of the crackers recently ceased. The Casco Bay island was the center of a national campaign to save the traditional crackers -- first commercially manufactured in 1792 -- after Nabisco discontinued making them in 1996 as part of an effort to streamline operations.

Damon spearheaded the campaign, which got a huge boost when Maine humorist Tim Sample did a feature story about the crackers on the news magazine show ''CBS Sunday Morning'' -- a program seen by 5 million viewers.

Nabisco resumed production in 1997 after receiving thousands of complaints.

But Damon said she and other pilot cracker fans had trouble recently finding the crackers in stores. On Thursday, she called Nabisco and learned the company is no longer making them.

Nabisco, which was bought by Kraft Foods in 2000, confirmed Thursday that production of the Crown Pilot cracker has stopped, saying sales of the product have fallen drastically since the 1990s. Production ceased just recently, so there may still be some boxes of the crackers remaining in warehouses, said Laurie Guzzinati, spokeswoman for Kraft.

''I realize this is disappointing to consumers, and it was definitely a difficult business decision to make,'' Guzzinati said.

However, she said, sales of the Crown Pilot cracker were always small and regional, and now are half of what they were about a decade ago. She declined to give specific sales numbers.

Pilot crackers, a kind of hardtack, or ship's bread, were first produced in Massachusetts in 1792 by a bakery that became part of Nabisco a century later.

Damon, a Chebeague Island selectman, is not resigned to a future without them. She is urging another effort to save the cherished biscuits, which many consider part of the cultural heritage of Maine and New England.

Supporters should call 1-800-Nabisco and express their concerns, Damon said.

In the meantime, Damon is trying to stock up on the crackers, which are not only used for seafood chowders and stews but are popular when spread with jam or soaked in milk.

On Thursday afternoon, she said, only one box remained at Doughty's Island Market on Chebeague.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at:

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