Monday, November 18, 2013
You may remember that My One and Only convinced me in January of 2012 that we should go vegan. Being vegan has been as easy as falling off a log .... and ending up with a sprained wrist, a deep cut on the forehead, and a temporary leg cast.
There have been some temptations along the way that have ended in non-vegan products being consumed.
But nothing has been as hard to give up as oysters in late fall.
Both our families have oyster lore. My husband grew up eating Chesapeake Bay oysters while I grew up eating Alabama Gulf Coast oysters, but we both crave oysters in multiple ways when the leaves have turned from orange to russet. When we travel to either coast in months with the letter R in the name, we always carry our own oyster knife. Now that we live several hours farther inland than we once did doesn't mean that fresh oysters are not available locally if you know where to look. And believe me, we always made it a point to know where to look.
Only now that we are vegan we are not supposed to be looking.
Traditions run deep. One and Only had a rich great uncle who lived in Mobile and shipped every Christmas a gallon of freshly shucked oysters to One and Only's Deep South grandmother. I have several oyster recipes in her wavy/curly handwriting. Oyster Dressing. Oyster Loaf. But growing up near the Chesapeake, One and Only usually gets a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes right before he rhapsodizes about oysters like this:
"I cannot remember if it was at Chincoteague or Assateague or maybe it was at the Boat Club, but I remember one year these oyster fritters made with whole oysters, just the right size, not too big and not too small..." These are fine memories complete with scenic marinas and crowds of friends with nice boats having a blast on either the James River or one of the other scenic rivers that empty into the Chesapeake.
My own memories are more like: "I cannot remember if it was on Swamp Creek or Hatchet Creek, but I can remember someone had gone by Adie Waites's store and picked up all kinds of orange and grape drinks and Dr Peppers for the kids and had them iced down with the beer for the men, and for some reason I got to go along even though I was a 5 year old girl and all the other cousins were older and boys, and after I had been fishing with a red and white bobber for what seemed like an eternity with no luck, the men got hungry and put out a spread of Vienna sausages, sardines, crackers, a wedge of yellow hoop cheese my daddy cut into slices with a pocket knife, and a jar of raw oysters with a fork and a little bottle of Louisiana hot sauce. My daddy put one of the oysters on a cracker, squeezed some lemon on it, hit it with the hot sauce, and put the entire thing in his mouth, smiling and chewing at the same time. When I asked him to, he did the same for me. Fished out an oyster with the fork, put the oyster on a cracker with a few drops of lemon juice but only one drop of hot sauce since he said I was too young for any more than that. I pushed the whole thing into my mouth, just as I had seen him do. The explosion of flavor is one I will never forget. Tart lemon, tangy hot pepper and vinegar, the salty crispness of the Saltine cracker, and the juicy oyster tasted just exactly like the salt air smelled when we went to the beach at Pensacola. There was no way I was going to just swallow it as quickly as possible and wash it down with Coca Cola as the boy cousins had told me to do. It was delicious, and I wanted another one!"
Friday--as if my car was taken over by spirits--I found myself driving the 20 miles to the one little seafood hole-in-the-wall on the river that gets in fresh shipments of Gulf oysters. No fresh ones were available in shell, but I went into the back with them as they opened up the gallon of fresh shucked oysters that had just arrived that hour from the coast. I kept them on ice until the very minute they went into the cracker crumb, yellow cornmeal mixture--a Chesapeake/ Gulf Coast compromise-- that I seasoned myself with cayenne. While we waited for those to fry in the black cast iron skillet, we ate a few raw on Saltines with lemon and a few drops of Tabasco.
Suddenly I was five years old and on a creek bank.