“I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead…not sick…not wounded…dead.” ~Woody Allen
Why oysters you ask. You know you’re going to get another story.
Many of my ancestors came in the Great Migration to Dorchester Colony, Massachusetts from England in 1630 on the ship called the Mary and John. Others followed in 1635. All came from England. I have a theory that “my people” let “Peter’s people” come first to see if they survived. Sour grapes? I’m still looking for my Mayflower ancestor.
Our ancestors survived and so did the following tradition.
In an Ideals Thanksgiving book I read many years ago, there was a short story (historical fiction) called “The First Feast” by Jane G. Austin:
“It seems that the morning of the first Thanksgiving, some Indians brought large baskets of delicious oysters to the Pilgrims. Priscilla Mullins remembered a tradition of compounding the oysters with biscuit-crumbs and spices and wine and baking them.
“While she was looking for an iron pan to bake them in, Elizabeth Tilley brought some great clam and scallop shells that John Howland had presented to her as a gift for the love of his lady.
“ ‘Wouldn’t it do to fill these with thy oyster compote, and so set them in the ashes to roast?’ she asked. ‘Being many, they can be laid at every man’s place at table.’
“Priscilla liked the idea. John (Alden) agreed. The oysters in their scallop shells were a singular success.”
Note: Priscilla Mullins and her husband John Alden are Peter’s 9th Great Grandparents.
It was a tradition in my family to have scalloped oysters with Thanksgiving dinner. I never knew that “scalloped” in the recipe’s name meant scallop shells. It makes sense that they would put a fresh oyster, some crumbs and some wine on each shell and roast them. That’s what we’re doing only in a casserole dish.
Mother had a special casserole for her Scalloped Oysters. It fit inside a silver holder with a silver lid. That casserole held a place of honor at the Thanksgiving table. So many family members liked them that she had a recipe for them that served twelve people. The recipe here will serve four.
The children would never try the oysters at our table. Brave food “junkie” that I am, one memorable Thanksgiving I ventured into feared territory. I ate only the crackers that were cooked with the oysters. They were delicious. The flavors were unusual and rich.
After learning to eat oysters on the “half shell” in beach restaurants in Mexico, I have loved this traditional Thanksgiving oyster casserole.
Peter and I invited all of the children and grandchildren to Thanksgiving dinner last year (2010) and debated whether or not we would have Scalloped Oysters. We love them and so we decided to go ahead and fix them. Traditions must live on. Maybe someone would try them and like them. One very polite daughter-in-law did. Bless her. Of course, her favorite food is sushi.
When I took them out of the oven, someone said, “What’s that?”
I went into the family tradition thing about the oysters.
One of our quick-witted sons piped up in a General Patton-like tone, “Let the tradition die here!”
He must share Woody Allen’s sentiments.
The recipe goes like this.
Foxie’s SCALLOPED OYSTERS
1-pint fresh medium-size oysters (two 8oz jars); this year the oysters look like they’re on steroids. If they’re too big, cut them in half.
You will find them in the fresh meat section where the fish is or ask the butcher.
3+ cups medium-coarse cracker pieces. Put saltines in a plastic bag and slightly break them into pieces with your fist.
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup butter, cold and cut in small pieces to dot the top of the casserole
1 cup Half & Half
1/3-cup oyster liquor (this is the gooey stuff in the jar that the oysters are sitting in).
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
· Drain oysters, reserving 1/3-cup liquor.
· Toss cracker crumbs and melted butter in a large bowl until crackers are coated with butter.
· Spread 1/3 of crackers in the bottom of a greased 8” square glass dish.
· Cover with half the oysters.
· Sprinkle with pepper.
· Using another third of the crackers spread a second layer;
· Cover with the remaining oysters.
· Sprinkle with pepper.
· Combine cream, oyster liquor, Worcestershire, and salt.
· Pour over oysters. (The liquid needs to come a little more than halfway up the casserole.) Add some Half & Half to get the liquid to where it should be. This will assure that the casserole is moist.
· Top with last third of crumbs.
· Dot the top layer with butter.
· Bake in moderate oven (350) about 45 minutes or until golden on top and bubbly.
· Makes 4 servings.
Hustle the oysters to the table so folks can eat them hot, at their very best.