This Thanksgiving, we're doing something different. After sharing almost every Thanksgiving of my life with my parents, I was at a loss this year because they're both now gone. I am (so very, very) lucky to have a dear friend who is willing (enthusiastic, even!) to lump us in with her family for the holiday, and I can't wait. (She throws a great party, and this will be no exception.)
I offered to bring the oyster dressing, and planned to use my mom's recipe. But I couldn't find it. Panic ensued.
I will fully admit that my panic may have been disproportionate to the gravity of the situation. My father died this August, three years after my mom's death, and the holidays are hitting me hard. To all my friends and family: Please forgive me, because these next couple of months aren't going to be pretty. I'll try to be a little more normal after my birthday in January. In fact, I will invite you all over for dinner, because I'll owe you by then. But it might be next January.
I looked through the box of my mother's and grandmothers' handwritten recipes, and it wasn't there. The only thing I knew for sure was that it contained oysters and saltine crackers. Searching the internet yielded a bunch of recipes that sounded delicious, but unfamiliar.
→ Get the Recipes: Oyster Stuffing: Is it Worth All the Shucking?
Though I know that recipe has to be somewhere, I thought it best to just wing it. My mother's recipe was simple, so I went to one of her favorite sources, "Putting on the Grits," published by the Junior League of Columbia in 1985, and just as relevant nearly 20 years later.
When I saw "Fairey's Oyster Pie," with its simple list of ingredients, all of which I had seen in my mother's kitchen, I knew I was getting warm. We called it dressing, not pie, and some refer to it as oyster stuffing. Those are three different dishes, but there are as many variations of each one as there are grains of sand on the beach. Armed with memories of watching my mother preparing her own variation of oyster dressing, I didn't follow the recipe exactly as instructed.
I remembered seeing identifiable pieces of saltine cracker, so I didn't crush them too much. Instead of salt and pepper, I used French Picnic Salt, a blend that includes pepper, lavender, mustard, garlic, and thyme. I layered the oysters, cracker crumbs, and butter carefully. When I got to the last layer, I disregarded the instructions again, which called for adding slices of butter followed by the final layer of crackers. I melted the butter and stirred it into the crumbs before distributing it over the top of the dressing.
I may not have used exactly the quantity of crackers recommended (okay, I didn't), and I was a little more liberal with the hot sauce, and less generous with the milk. (Yes, I insist on calling it oyster dressing, even though the recipe says pie, because Mom.) Much like my mother's recipes, it was a lazy version of something Martha Stewart might make.
→Get the Recipe: Oyster Pie at Martha Stewart
I baked it in a convection oven for 15 minutes, then broiled for a minute and a half, and it came out just right. Tasted delicious, too.
As for all that shucking? Well, I took another page from my mom's book (and a memory from my childhood), and bought some oysters, already shucked, in a jar, from the seafood counter at the Piggly Wiggly. They were Atlantic oysters from Virginia — delightfully briny and smelled fresh.
What dish do you need to see on the buffet for it to feel like a real Thanksgiving? Do you have the recipe? Make sure you get it, because you never know when it might be your turn to make it!