This warm meal stirs up memories of a Corpus Christi grandmother
When I was very young, my parents would sometimes send my siblings and me on a Greyhound bus to Corpus Christi to stay with my paternal grandmother. My parents sent us off with kisses and stern reminders to say “please and thank you,” to eat everything we were served and, above all, to stay out of my grandmother’s hair.
I remember only a few things about those trips. Her small, white house and a lavender crepe myrtle stand out clearly in memory.
So, too, does barreling along Ocean Drive in the vast back seat of her powder blue Ford LTD and giggling about the way she pronounced pizza as pisa, as if our staple meal were strange and exotic.
We had wanted pizza for lunch, but had not gotten pizza.
It’s the food I remember most about those visits. She enjoyed cooking and smiled as she did it, which was rare. And she was good at it, plying us with homemade fried chicken, snickerdoodles, pot roast, pork chops and ham salad on toast.
She was not a doting grandmother. But when I was older, I realized the meals she carefully prepared for us were her way of showing affection. She died before I was old enough to know her well. I happily ceded her china and jewelry to my older sisters and was content to inherit a bone-handled oyster knife made by her beloved Port Lavaca grandfather and a well-worn copy of “Cooking with Helen McCully Beside You.” McCully also was known for a somewhat abrasive manner, but, also like my grandmother, was an exquisite cook.
This oyster stew recipe from a dog-eared page in that cookbook brings me warmth and comfort on chilly nights and a new respect for my grandmother.
Rich Oyster Stew
3 dozen oysters in their liquid
½ stick of butter
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
Few stalks of parsley
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
Good dash of Worcestershire sauce
Good dash of Tabasco
Melt the butter in the saucepan. Add the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, parsley, thyme and 1 cup of water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated.
Add the milk, cream and the liquor from the oysters. Heat to the boiling point, but do not boil. Strain into another saucepan. Add the oysters and heat only until the oysters curl at the edges. Season to taste with salt, pepper, Worcestershire and Tabasco.
Ladle into heated soup bowls. (Heat soup bowls by filling them with boiling water and allowing them to stand briefly. Then dump out the water and wipe the bowls dry.)
Source: “Cooking With Helen McCully Beside You,” Random House, New York, 1970.