Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The day before T-Day

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and we are doing what many people are doing: slicing and dicing, peeling and defrosting.  The work goes much easier when two people are doing it together.  So far we have worked our way through potatoes, apples, turnips and carrots.  The turkey is defrosting nicely.  And all the supplies are basically gathered except for one: oysters. 

So what day before Thanksgiving would be complete without a run on the river to the oyster beds?  Here are some scenes from the morning's trip.  

Having oyster stew for Thanksgiving and Christmas has been a tradition for a long time in my family.  My father would harvest the oysters the day before, shuck them, and make up the most heavenly stew.  I'm including the recipe here for those of you who like oysters.  If you don't and they make you sick, just ignore and make a shrimp bisque instead. 

Tidewater Virginia Oyster Stew from Syd
2 pints shucked oysters with their liquid (or liquor as my father called it)
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk (a little added cream may be added to make it richer)
2 crisp slices of bacon minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced celery

In a large pan over medium heat, cook the bacon.  Shred the pieces.  Then melt butter and saute the minced celery. 

Add oysters, their liquid and milk; simmer very gently for about 2 to 4 minutes or until the gills and edges of the oysters curl.  It's important to not overcook the oysters. No need to boil the milk! Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat. Serve in warm soup bowls.  And if there are any pea crabs with the oysters, cook them up too. They are considered good luck if you get one in your stew!

Tonight after several weeks of Wednesday night classes, I will be rowing with the team again.  I feel like saying the infamous Tony Heyward quote: "I want my life back." Well, now that classes are done, I have my life back and can stretch some arm and leg muscles.  I know that it will feel good. Nothing like pulling on an oar for an hour to get some good honest sweat and endorphins moving. 

Finally, a bit of history about Thanksgiving. Supposedly, the first Thanksgiving in America took place in 1619, two years before the colonists arrived in Massachusetts.

Capt. John Woodlief, a survivor of the Jamestown settlement's "starving time" who had returned to England, set sail with 37 other settlers on the good ship Margaret to seek their fortune in the New World. After a violent storm blew them off course, they waded ashore Dec. 4, 1619 at what is now Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. They opened their orders from their backers, which stated that they were to drop to their knees immediately and give thanks. Their landing date was to "be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God."

No one knows if they had anything other than old ship rations to eat. Historians surmise that they might have supped on roasted oysters and Virginia ham. Others say their feast included bacon, peas, cornmeal cakes, and cinnamon water. 

I think that we have part of that covered for tomorrow.  Now to go shuck those oysters. 


  1. I eat oysters raw or smoked. I really wish I liked oyster stew. You'd think if I eat them raw I'd eat them cooked...go figure. I am thankful for friends like you who walk the walk, no matter what. Have a serene and bountiful day tomorrow.


  2. I am going to make the oyster stew even though, living in Arizona, I have no place to harvest oysters except at the grocery store.(and don't go there about "mountain oysters", not going to do that!)

    What in the world is a pea crab?

    Happy Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I'm going to try it! The pictures were beautiful and thanks for the bit of history. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

  4. mmm...oyster stew sounds great...hope you have a great t-day!

  5. We always have oyster stew on Christmas Eve. Traditions are so comfortable. Hard to run down the bay for oysters here in KS, have to settle for canned ones at the store. I bet stew with fresh oysters has to be wonderful.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving Syd. Many blessings to you and yours.

  7. My favorite part about this whole post is in the first paragraph: The work goes much easier when two people are doing it together.
    Blessings to both of you for that.

  8. The food sounds great. Have a good thanksgiving

  9. Love that recipe -- we get large delicious oysters here, especially on our West Coast near Luderitz.

    And thanks for the snippet of history. I hope you and C and her parents have a restful and happy day.

  10. You've still have me thinking about oyster stew. I remember asking once when we started eating oyster stew. My uncle told me his mother, my grandma would make it when he was young. He is now 82. Where it came from before that I guess is lost to history.

    When I was thinking about it I thought about our family tree and our ancestors were seafarers. The first entry on the original tree was a Grover that was a Captain of a ship that was lost at sea in 1804. The family was from Maine, emmigrated to Ohio and then to Kansas.

    Maybe the tradition was something from ancestors near the sea and traveled through the years. Who knows, probably not but it is a lot more romantic to think it has.

  11. My husband loves oyster stew. I will make him some this weekend with the oysters which have not been eaten raw or steamed. Lovely little sea creatures. Lovely post, Syd.


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