Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oyster Soup from the Little House

The beginning of something wonderful...
"In all her life Laura had never tasted anything so good as that savory, fragrant, sea-tasting hot milk, with golden dots of melted cream and black specks of pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters at its bottom. She sipped slowly, slowly from her spoon, to keep that taste going over her tongue as long as she could." -- from By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, pp 204

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an uncontrollable fascination with the Little House series. It was my introduction to Christianity, and the reason why I invited the minister to dinner when we moved to New England (Ma insisted it was right and proper, so therefore it was what I ought to do, yes?). I've been through the series so many times that I've had to buy new copies on several occasions, the older ones having worn out. I learned morals and ethics from them. For me, Laura and Ma and Pa and the other people there are just as real as you and me.

Several years ago (several severals of years ago), I was living on the west coast and had managed to become unemployed and rather destitute. I was scraping by on unemployment insurance payments, but it was pretty dicey. My partner D and I were approaching the Christmas and Yule season with as much joy as we could muster. After all, we had a roof over our heads, heat, and each other. It was lean, but love fills a lot of gaps.

Some kind soul had told the local fire department that we were living lean over the season, and a soft spoken gentleman brought us a hamper of food. I tried to protest, but he insisted that it was alright, we weren't taking anything from someone else. I'll admit, once he was gone, I tore into that box like ... well, like it was Christmas morning. D and I went through the rice and pasta, a tiny canned ham, some fresh vegetables, and then at the very bottom we found the single precious can of smoked oysters.

We could have eaten that can of oysters in two seconds. We're both in love with them, their smoky flavor, savory and oily... But I looked at him and ran to the book shelf. I pulled out "By the Shores of Silver Lake" and went skimming through it to find the New Year's Eve scene. There it was, Laura's description of the oyster soup Ma had made for their guests. He and I started laughing, and we recreated that soup for Christmas Eve for ourselves. It was a wonderful meal.

This year, I wanted to make the soup again. I remember how delicious it was way back when I was barely an adult. Tastes change, though, and I wondered if it would still be as magical. I picked up three cans of cheap smoked oysters and sacrificed some of my coffee half-and-half, and made the soup as a starter to our Yule meal last night.

Everyone enjoyed it. I made enough that I assumed there would be much in the way of leftovers, but there wasn't. Barely a drop was left in my soup tureen when we were done! It was just as Laura described it, with the oil and butter, the salty sea taste.

Merry Yuletide, my readers, and Merry Christmas as well. I hope you will enjoy this (terrifically easy) delicious soup as much as I and our guests did.

Oyster Soup
  • 6 tsp butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 3 cans oysters
  • 1 to 2 quarts half-and-half
  • salt, pepper, paprika  to taste
  • parsley and oyster crackers for garnish
In a soup pot, melt the butter. When it is just starting to sizzle and is completely melted, add the minced onions, and cook for two or three minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the oysters, oil and all, and cook for another two minutes. Add the cream and spices, and heat until it just begins to boil. Sprinkle with parsley, stir, and ladle into bowls. Serve with the oyster crackers on the side.

Literally, this soup takes ten minutes to make, but it tastes like you spent hours fussing over it. It also does fine if you make it earlier and then re-heat it just before serving. That's what I ended up doing, because we had too many things that needed to be on the stove top at the last minute. It turned out incredible. Enjoy!

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