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Photoillustration by Stacy Reece
Photoillustration by Stacy Reece

Thanksgiving Oysters

In the Ross household, a turkey on the Thanksgiving table was never enough. Oysters were required.

My most enduring Thanksgiving memory does not center around a turkey.

My mother, Kitty Ross, was disdainful of the time and trouble that it took to cook the “G.D. turkey” — my abbreviation, not hers. She said it in a way that was not wicked but matter of fact — in a tone that was reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn but belonged fully to Katharine Ficklen Ross. Kitty Ross was bound neither by the traditions nor limited language of others. Her sarcasm was sublime; her wit was sharp.

Kitty Ross’ world was high art, high fashion. Life lived large and luminous. I believe she felt the turkey was too mundane to be worth the trouble. Its presence was a time-consuming intrusion in a flavorful life.

After my brother’s marriage, he moved to Nashville. My mother and I were the remaining family shard that was left in our hometown of Atlanta after her divorce from my dad ended 26 years of marriage.

Post-divorce, thankfully, we were not left with only the common turkey for Thanksgiving. Kitty Ross remained devoted to the recipe for “Hot Panned Oysters” from the spiral bound cookbook, “Favorite Recipes of the Lower Cape Fear.”

Our family had spent a month each summer at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, near my father's hometown of Wilmington.  We became enamored with the tasty, life-giving seafood from the Atlantic Ocean.

Attached is the sauce-stained page with the recipe from the cookbook published in 1955 — the year I was born. To begin, it calls for “1 quart North Carolina ‘SELECT’ oysters.’’ It further instructs, “Never wash the oysters, but remove any pieces of shell which might be present with a fork.”

For us, the “Hot Panned Oysters” represented the years before the divorce — both the summer season and the summer of their marriage. The oyster dish was the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal for both of us.

condensed-recipe-hot-panned-oysters

For us, the “Hot Panned Oysters” represented the years before the divorce — both the summer season and the summer of their marriage. Besides, they were a tasty treat that far exceeded the overrated turkey. The oyster dish was the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal for both of us.

Mom and I were family; another year had passed, and we were together. We gave thanks. And bad-mouthed the Republicans. With the oysters, we had overcome what life dealt us. The tradition was continued and celebrated.

Each November, Kitty Ross brought the summer and the sea to our Thanksgiving table. By embracing and elevating oysters to a place above the Bird, we marked our place and our own tradition. Yeah, we stuffed ourselves with turkey. But the subject of our taste buds, the dish that mattered was the briny, odd consistency of the flavorful, chewy cooked oyster meat reigning amid the saltine crackers.

Though I do not remember a bad batch, every year, as if on cue, Mom would say, “The oysters turned out pretty well this year, don’t you think?”

“Mm...,” I would murmur in mid-mouthful with orgasmic delight. “Fantastic, you have outdone yourself.”

And I would spoon out another helping, my taste buds pleasured by both the texture of the dish and the transporting taste of the oysters which brought our beloved Atlantic Ocean to the survivors of divorce in Atlanta, Georgia.

~~~

The tradition has continued, even in the years after my mother’s death.

My dear friend and excellent cook, Robert Holland, and I have an unusual situation. Years after we became friends, we married sisters. My regard for Robert was such that I convinced myself that because we married sisters that somehow made us related, thus making us even closer. I was told that I was wrong about this. Sadly, in time, we each were divorced. Happily, we remain close to our former wives,  the mothers of our children. We all celebrate holiday meals together — parents and children. Though I have resigned myself that Robert and I are simply good friends, at least our children are cousins. Our family gathering is not uncommon in the new era of 21st century relationships.

It is Thanksgiving, and once again I look forward to “Hot Panned Oysters.” Only now, they are prepared by my dear friend Robert Holland — in my mother’s honor and as a grand gift of friendship to me.

It is Thanksgiving, and once again I look forward to “Hot Panned Oysters.” Only now, they are prepared by Robert — in my mother’s honor and as a grand gift of friendship to me. He prepares them from his copy of “Favorite Recipes of the Lower Cape Fear” — which I gave him. He cooks them in her serving dish, which is so familiar to me. That dish rests on the table in its basket with handles. Just as it always has.

At the family Thanksgiving table, I will hear both the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and my mother’s voice. I will send her out a prayer of delight with my mouth full and taste buds engaged. My heart will be full as well.

Atlanta writer Nelson d. Ross describes his life and experiences as “city Southern.” He has lived in Atlanta his whole life with a dash of summers at the seashore In Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. He is a sucker for songs about going home.

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