As I write this final post of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project, I have to say that I’m proud of myself! I stuck to it and will have written 52 blog posts about vintage foods, recipes and the times of my childhood. If you’ve followed these posts, you might know more about my family than most people! You will also have learned that I cook like my mother and my Aunt Evelyn cooked! They were my mentors as a child and as an adult. You’ve also learned that my dad and my husband had huge impacts on the food doings in our household! When the men liked … we cooked! I have a new food blogging project for 2021. I’ll start those posts next weekend, so make sure you come back to see what I’m doing in the new year!
Now, on to the New Year! My mother created a New Year’s Eve tradition after my older siblings had left home. I am the baby child, so I had the life of the only child (at home anyway) for a few years! Daddy loved oyster stew, so Mother started fixing it on New Year’s Eve! In those days, my favorite vintage period of the 1950s and 60s, the only kinds of oysters we had in Southern Illinois came from a little can! They were expensive, so it wasn’t something we had often, but when we had it, we certainly enjoyed it.
I’ll share the recipe today. It is simple and isn’t something I really call stew because it is chock full of vegetables, but that is what Mother called it … so the name remains!
My daddy was a storyteller. I have those genes and so does my daughter! I’m happy about that! He had a tendency to open up more around the holidays and talk about traditions and memories of his own childhood. Occasionally, we’d hear stories about his time in WWII, stationed at Great Lakes in Chicago and then on Okinawa for months. I delighted in sitting at the supper table, listening to him.
Only one time did my dad tell the story of making oyster stew when he was on Okinawa. He carried a small camp stove, a skillet and a coffee pot … so the notion of him cooking soup was very real. I don’t know where he got oysters … maybe they were fresh … maybe he managed to find some in a can. He clearly described using his powdered milk, though! He loved whole milk … cow’s or goat’s … and he loved buttermilk. Powdered milk was never his favorite thing, although most families kept a box of it for emergencies!
Daddy also described his friendships with fellow soldiers. I was thrilled when I found a little address book he used when he discharged. In it were names and addresses of many men … written in their own handwriting. I can just see my dad handing it to a friend and having them add the contact information. I’m sure he stayed in contact with many … and I know he stayed in contact with a soldier friend in South Carolina until the day he died. We always looked forward to letters and cards from South Carolina!
Daddy also talked about helping the locals raise their gardens. He talked about sneaking food to the cabins of the Geisha girls who had been left on the island with no way to support themselves. I’m not sure those girls were true Geishas, but that is what my dad called them. I was a young teenager when he explained their purpose on the island and why the Japanese just left them behind after the American invasion of the island. These stories about sharing food with people who needed it never surprised me because my dad did that his whole life! Garden produce, big catches of fish … were always shared!
In many ways, my childhood family lived the spirit of Christmas all year long! There were many years when our own gifts from Santa were minimal, but if there was a family in the community that needed a meal … a box was anonymously left on their front porch.
Times were simpler then. In this year of 2020, we have gone back to many simple things because the pandemic has forced us to. You might want to try my very simple oyster stew recipe before we end this year! Maybe it will bring us all health and happiness in the next!
Simple Oyster Stew
1 can of oysters
1 quart of half and half (or whole milk)
3 scallions (or a little bit of a yellow or white onion)
1 stalk of celery
Lots of black pepper and fresh sage (or rubbed powdered sage)
Half a stick of butter
3 Tablespoons flour
Slowly melt the butter in a heavy pan. Chop the onions and celery and sauté them in the butter until they are soft. Add a couple leaves of sage (or 1/4 teaspoon of powdered) and a couple heavy dashes of black pepper.
Add the flour and stir until it forms a light colored roux. Add the half and half and continue to simmer until it begins to thicken. Lastly, pour in the can of oysters with the juice and continue to heat until ready to serve. Slowly heating this stew is the key to the best flavor. You probably won’t want any salt in it as the oysters are typically salty! Add it if you need it!
This is the final post of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project. If you’d like to see similar posts, just click through my menu tab. I’ll be sharing with a couple blog parties, so check the list on my sidebar. Happy New Year!