Pilot Crackers Refuse to Crumble

When Nabisco pulled its Crown Pilot Crackers off the shelves last May, it received thousands of calls and letters, especially from New Englanders to "please bring them back."

Earlier this month, the company announced plans to do just that. "We have learned just how much Crown Pilot Crackers mean to our New England consumers," says Mark Hosbein, business director of Savory Snacks for Nabisco.

They were first produced by John Pearson, a baker in Newburyport, Mass. He called it "Pilot Bread." Sailors took the unleavened biscuits on long voyages because they kept well.

Before long, the crackers became a staple of coastal New Englanders, who enjoyed them in chowders and stews, or spread with jam, or simply soaked them in milk. Babies even teethed on them.

In 1898, Pearson & Sons and an association of bakeries joined to form the National Biscuit Company.

Last May, the company discontinued the crackers for several reasons: The geographical market was narrow, the volume was not that large, and they had a similar product out on the shelves.

After consumers called and wrote in - many describing how they grew up eating Crown Pilot Crackers - the company responded to public demand.

"We thought we were just delisting a cracker," Mr. Hosbein says. "It became apparent that we were interrupting history for many folks."

The following is adapted from a recipe that once appeared on the Crown Pilot Cracker box.

Crown Pilot Fish Chowder

6 ounces salt pork, diced

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1-1/2 lbs. haddock, cut into bite-size pieces

4 medium potatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs.), pared, cubed

1 cup chopped onions

2 quarts milk

Crown Pilot Crackers

In heavy kettle, fry salt pork over medium heat until crisp; remove pork pieces and drain on a paper towel.

Stir next three ingredients in kettle.

Layer fish, potatoes, and onions in drippings. Sprinkle each layer with flour mixture. Pour in milk. Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pork pieces. Simmer a few minutes longer, or until potatoes are tender. Break Crown Pilot Crackers into soup bowls; add chowder.

Makes 6 servings.

* Those outside New England who would like Crown Pilot Crackers can call 1-800-NABISCO to place a minimum order of one case (12 boxes) for $34.68 plus shipping and handling.

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