The Stuff That Makes Stories

An email from my daughter-in-law contained the ultimate mother-in-law compliment. Her daughter-in-law wanted the recipe for the oyster dressing I made at Thanksgiving. One problem. There is no recipe. It’s more like a story.

My stepson requested the oyster dressing because he fondly remembers the turkey dinners his father (my late husband) had prepared. Those were the days when we stuffed turkeys, but now for food safety reasons we’re advised to bake the dressing separately. I’d never made oyster stuffing/dressing but figured I could follow John’s recipe. I was dismayed when I consulted his box of three-by-five recipe cards. He’d meticulously written recipes from A (Air Freshener: a mix of orange rind, savory, tarragon, rosemary, and bay leaves) to Z (Zinfandel Sauce for Lamb—email if you want that one). No Oyster Dressing.

The venerable “Joy of Cooking” was his go-to culinary resource, but not the 2006 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary edition I use now. I had to climb on a step stool to retrieve the 1975 version that John used and I’ve sentimentally hung onto. Opening to page 370, I was reassured. The page was well stained. I’m certain he didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but it would’ve been his starting point.

Next problem: oysters. We usually managed to schedule a business trip to Seattle a day or two before Thanksgiving so we could pick up fresh oysters from our favorite seafood shop. After years of driving over the passes in winter storms, I’ve given up that folly. I’d have to settle for aging, outsized oysters from local stores, which meant my supporting cast of ingredients would have to excel. Especially the bread. I didn’t want that factory manufactured stuff. I opted for Lisa’s day-old sour dough, available only at the Farm Stand in Okanogan, where I also picked up organic onions and celery. I cubed the bread (about ten cups worth), spread the cubes on a cookie sheet and roasted them at 400 degrees about ten minutes, occasionally giving them a stir.

I melted a full cube of unsalted butter and cooked two generous cups of diced onions and a generous cup of diced celery until soft (not brown), took the pan off the heat and went outside, hoping to find something still alive in my herb beds. Miraculously, I discovered parsley and thyme. I added a generous half-cup of chopped parsley to the onions along with a small amount of fresh thyme (it can overwhelm), salt, pepper, fresh-ground nutmeg, and ground cloves. Draining the oysters, I saved the liquid and sighed as I chopped them into bite-sized chunks. I used two pints; John would’ve used more. I had just enough turkey stock from the previous week when I’d boiled down bones from a turkey breast to combine with the oyster liquid, making one cup. After mixing everything together, I spread it into an oiled, nine-by-twelve casserole dish. I thought it looked too dry and wished I’d had more turkey stock. Or oysters. I melted another half-cube of unsalted butter and drizzled it across the top.

I was too busy playing cribbage and swilling wine to pay attention to the final step, handled by the primary chef, my daughter-in-law. “Joy” (vintage 2006) says to bake at 350 degrees thirty to forty-five minutes until inside temperature is 165 degrees.

That’s the story. I don’t know if anyone could make a recipe out of it. It wouldn’t fit on a three-by-five card.

Food stains tell part of the story

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