The other day, I had to fix, as in mutilate, boil, broil or do something to, some oysters. A close friend brought us a dozen fresh oysters in a jar from the Eastern Shore.
One of my husband's favorite things in life is oyster stew. This time, I had no excuse not to fix the stew. Since I'd avoided working with the little critters all these years, I knew it was time in my old age to deal with them.
I can't stand to look at oysters, smell them, eat them or watch someone slurp them.
I'm sorry. I have tried to like them. Let me count the ways. I have taken a strong drink, felt mellow, and tried to put one in my mouth. I have frozen my tongue with ice cubes before swallowing the things. I have tried not looking at them while eating one. They taste like an over-ripe artichoke.
And I know you oyster-lovers are getting mad, so let me tell you they are the only thing in Maryland or in the world that I don't like to eat. So bear with me.
The reason I don't like them is Halloween parties. When I was growing up, we kids would be blindfolded and made to feel into a bowl of grapes. We were told they were a dead man's eyes. Then we were made to put our hand into a bowl of oysters, and told they were the brains of the guy.
Macabre? Back then we didn't have television for our horror thrills.
I decided to get out all the cookbooks and read about how to make oyster stew.
I found completely different recipes for making the stuff.
But my husband was so thrilled -- his wife of 51 years was finally going to make him oyster stew.
So I jumped in with both eyes open, and my nose clamped down, and read the recipes.
I used my two old standbys, "The Boston Cooking School Cook Book" and "The Joy of Cooking." From the '40s to the '70s, they have seen me through life in the kitchen.
The first thing I noticed is that the recipes were completely different. "What's this?" I yelled at the oysters in the jar. "No one has a standard oyster stew!"
"The Joy" said that I needed a double boiler. I have not seen my double boiler since I last made paste for a school map. Then it said to combine 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, a half-teaspoon of grated leeks and a sliver of garlic, then pour in the oysters with their liquid.
Next add a half-cup of milk, a half-cup of cream, salt, pepper and paprika. Then when the milk is hot -- but how hot, I have no idea -- and the oysters float, add a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Meantime, I am trying to remember the stories I used to hear about when not to eat oysters. Only eat them in months with an R in them. Well, heck, this is April so I'd better hurry.
I forge on, occasionally glancing at the oysters in the jar, and they are looking grayer and grayer, sicker and sicker.
Now the "Boston Cooking School Cook Book," which ought to know everything about oysters, did not mention a double boiler. Instead, it said to carefully pick over the oysters, removing bits of shell. (Gross. Does that mean I will have to reach in the jar and feel around?)
Add water (but how much?), I read. Cook until oysters are plump around the edges (they already looked plump to me). Remove oysters with skimmer and add to milk. (I don't have a skimmer.) Add strained liquor (is that the same as the juice?), butter, salt and pepper. Add finely minced tips of green onions and a little minced parsley.
I got nervous; I couldn't ruin these things. But I knew I had to do this quickly. Or take him out to dinner.
I called my neighbor Rose, a native. She laughed as she told me to throw out the cookbooks and put the oysters in a saucepan and wait until they ripple. I thought she said "wiggle."
"Wiggle, but they are dead, aren't they?" I yell.
I only wanted reassurance.
"No, ripple, as in curl," she explains. "Then add some butter, milk and parsley."
"That's it?" I yell back in amazement.
I did as she said. They didn't wiggle; they sort of scalloped like a blowfish when threatened -- they became different, morphed. They looked as if I'd taken pinking shears to them.
I made the stew in two minutes, after mentally stewing for one hour. My husband told me it was the best he'd ever had. He didn't get a shell. I confess that I used cream instead of milk with the oysters. I ate a veggie sandwich.
And that's it in an oyster shell. Sorry.