Anne Freeze: Oyster season

January 27, 2010 12:52:00 PM

Anne Freeze -


It''s oyster season, and I''m hankering for a trip to Apalachicola for an oyster orgy. I''ve only been to this part of Florida -- the Forgotten Panhandle, as it''s known -- once several years ago on a Southern Foodways Alliance field trip. Terry and I spent three days with others learning about the challenges facing the U.S. oystermen, going out with them on their boats, with tongs, shucking oysters, eating oysters, smoking mullet and worm grunting (hunting for earthworms). I came home with a deeper appreciation of these men and women and the hard work they do. 


I learned there are actually only five species of oysters eaten in the Western Hemisphere, and only one of those covers the Eastern coast from Canada down and around to the Gulf Coast.  




In our waters 


They may look and taste a little different due to water salinity and diet, and the ratio of cold to warm days, but on our side of the country all of the oysters are Crassostrea virginica oysters. In the Gulf the oysters are pretty much known generically as Gulf oysters, with the exception of Apalachicola, which is an appellation of its own. So, down here we have Gulf oysters and Apalachicola oysters.  


Gulf oysters are lower in salinity and are a little softer than Northern oysters. They are very abundant, which is probably why that area is the birthplace of so many good oyster recipes -- Po''boy anyone, or Oysters Rockefeller? 


This past Christmas I decided to add my mother''s scalloped oysters to our table and make it a new holiday tradition. No matter that Terry and I were the only ones who ate it; that''s part of the tradition. At my family table in Athens, Ga., it was the same scene. Momma and I felt that just left more for us to turn into oyster stew for supper. 




So simple 


I think scalloped oysters are a perfect example of simple ingredients made delicious. It consists of oysters, oyster liquid (liquor), saltines, butter, salt and pepper, and a little milk or cream. Period, that''s it. Takes five minutes to make. For the oyster stew, she would simply spoon out some of the leftover casserole and put it in a saucepan with some added milk. It just didn''t get much better than this. And what is great is that you use regular grocery store-bought oysters, nothing fancy.  


Gulf oysters are in season year-round, so they say. Terry won''t eat (or let me eat) them during warm weather. He abides by the months-with-"r"-in-them rule, which says to eat oysters only in the months of January, February, March, April, September, October, November and December. Although, we were in Apalachicola in June, and I didn''t seem him hesitate one second before slurping down a dozen of those little jewels. But, it does add a sense of anticipation to wait ''til the "season" to eat oysters. Makes it kind of special. 


Here is a classic recipe for scalloped oysters and two others for you to try, including a delicious recipe from Beth Broussard Rogers. Happy eating! 






Serves four 




7 tablespoons unsalted butter 


1 quart shucked oysters, liquor drained and reserved 


2 cups cracker crumbs (not too fine) 


Salt and black pepper 


Worcestershire sauce (optional) 


Hot sauce or cayenne (optional) 


1/4 cup reserved liquor, strained, or heavy cream 




(Source: "Classical Southern Cooking," by Damon Lee Fowler 






Serves 12 




4 cups uncooked wild rice 


1 pound fresh mushrooms 


3/4 cup butter 


1/3 cup minced onion 


1/3 cup chopped celery 


1/3 cup chopped bell pepper 


6 tablespoons flour 


1 pint heavy cream 


Two (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup 


4 tablespoons curry powder 


2 tablespoons seasoned salt 


2 pints oysters, drained 


1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 


Salt and white pepper, to taste 




(Source: "A Grand Heritage," Columbus) 








1/4 cup olive oil 


1/4 cup bacon drippings 


1 pound cooked bacon, crumbled or diced 


1 cup diced celery 


One quarter yellow onion, diced 


Two minced garlic cloves 


2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes 


2 cups fresh french bread crumbs 


Juice and zest of one lemon 


1/2 cup Pernod 


3 tablespoons each chopped chives and tarragon 


1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 


1/2 tablespoon cracked black pepper 




(Source: Chef Beth Broussard Rogers, J. Broussard Restaurant, Columbus)