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Recipes and Stories

19 November 2012: Mastering Thanksgiving VI—Tradition and Oysters

Lucy-Mama's Oysters

This morning my own stock pot came off the pantry shelf and I set to work cleaning and slicing carrots, celery, onions and gingerroot. Deciding to give the broth a little extra color and depth of flavor, I tossed my hoard of turkey wings and necks into a large roasting pan, lightly coated them with oil, and set them to roast in a hot oven (425° F. for about 45 minutes).

While that was going on, I washed and measured out a portion of the cranberries into a nice heavy saucepan, lightly crushed them with a potato masher, and, covering them well with water, put them on to simmer.

The weather outside is cold, gray, and damp, but the house is fragrant with the aroma from the simmering stock pot. The freshly-made, pectin-rich cranberry juice, strained through a cloth and as sparkling clear as liquid rubies, sits sunny and cheering on the counter, waiting to join whole berries, orange zest, and raw sugar in the saucepot.

All that means the make-ahead elements are under control, and as I look to the rest of the menu and cooking that lies ahead, my rather eclectic menu sets me to remembering the many Thanksgivings of my past.

Tradition has been defined as “how it was done when you were a child,” and when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, there is certainly a lot of truth in that. But as I get older, I realize how much my own traditions have been enriched and changed over the years by more than fifty Thanksgivings shared with friends.

One of my most memorable was spent with dear friend and fellow cookbook author Ruth Adams Bronz, who hosts a crowd of up to thirty or more in her deliciously eccentric home—a converted Victorian storefront in Housatonic, Massachusetts. It was a time of harsh transition in my life, but that week of cooking, laughing, and sharing with Ruth, Rita Horvath, and a host of others was an oasis of peace and joy in a year of gut-wrenching turmoil that I have never forgotten. I can recall every dish in surprising detail, but one of them stands out over the rest: Ruth’s grandmother “Lucy-Mama’s” scalloped oysters.

It’s the one dish that Ruth dare not omit from the menu: the one time she tried, her regular guests came dangerously close to mutiny. And now Lucy-Mama’s oysters are a regular part of my own Thanksgiving tradition. I’ve never been able to go back to Ruth’s for the holiday, but as I stir the oysters together, pop them into the oven, and eventually take my first bite, a little of the soothing peace of Ruth’s Thanksgiving haven comes back and settles into my soul.

And I am warmed.

Lucy-Mama’s Oysters
Serves 8

1 quart (2 pint containers) shucked oysters and their liquor
30 saltine crackers
½ cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup chopped parsley
¾ cup chopped scallions, both white and green parts
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425° F. Butter eight individual scallop shells or a 10-inch pie plate or 2-quart gratin. Strain the oysters, reserving their liquor. Crush the saltines to medium crumbs.

2. Melt 2/3 of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until foamy. Add 2/3 of the saltine crumbs and stir until they’re evenly coated. Add the parsley and scallions and toss (mixture should be quite dry and just beginning to brown). Add the oyster liquid and cream and simmer, stirring often, until reduced by one fourth, watching carefully. Stir in the oysters, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat.

3. Divide the oysters among the shells or pour into the prepared baking dish. Wipe out the skillet and add remaining butter. Melt over medium low heat, add the remaining crumbs, and toss until coated. Sprinkle the crumbs over the oysters and bake until bubbly, about 10 minutes.

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