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Enjoying a special winter treat
Ech 12-13-07 Oyster Stew
Oyster stew has been a longstanding tradition in the winter months. - photo by Photo by Susan Exley

Back in days gone by, a real treat was to be able to afford to purchase fresh oysters for the holidays.

Although a bit expensive, put into stew a few oysters could stretch to feed the family by increasing the milk in the recipe. The local grocers had oysters stored in gallon tins marked with the oyster producer in their meat cases. The butcher would dip the oysters and their briny juice into paper cartons and cap them with the paper lids. They would wrap the carton in waxed meat paper and write the price on the package with a waxed marker pen.  

Whether it was an evening after going to town to shop for some for groceries or Christmas Eve, the oysters were a real treat and were usually served fried in breading or batter or in stew in times gone by. Nowadays oysters are often served raw on the half-shell or roasted over fire as well as the traditional fried or stewed ones. They can be cooked in any manner including steaming, broiled, baked, canned or pickled.

Oysters live in brackish water of the intracoastal waterways or ocean. They are bivalve mollusks that breathe with gills and mantle and are filter feeders.

Edible oysters do not produce gem quality pearls. Many oysters are now commercially raised in fisheries for restaurants and grocers. They live in water from 8 to 25 feet deep.

A bit of folklore is that oysters can only be eaten in months with an “r” in them. This came about perhaps because the taste was watery and bland during spawning from May to August in the northern hemisphere. The size was smaller during this time, also. Oysters in the Gulf of Mexico spawn year round and are considered delicious anytime.

Now commercially raised, they are available all year. It is also disputed as to whether oysters are really an aphrodisiac so you will have to decide this matter. Oysters do have high zinc content and are relatively low in calories if prepared in a healthy manner.  

Enjoy a nice bowl of oyster stew, which is easy to prepare for the holidays, and share it with friends and families. Oysters are still a treat and we probably are lucky enough to be able to afford them more easily than in the early 1900s. Whether you add hot sauce or catsup or take yours plain, enjoy a steaming bowl of delicious oyster stew on a cold night.  

This column is being written weekly by Susan Exley from the Historic Effingham Society.  If you have questions, old photographs, contributions or comments to share, please contact her at 754-6681 or email:

Oyster stew
1 quart whole milk
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter
12-16 oz. oysters with juice
salt & pepper to taste
optional dash hot sauce
optional _ cup cream or half and half

Go through oysters and remove all shell and save all of the juice with oysters.  Bring milk and butter, salt, pepper and optional cream to a slow simmer (do not let boil) over medium-low heat in a pot on stove.  Add oysters and juice. Heat briefly just until edges of oysters curl.  If you overcook, oysters will get tough. Do not let it boil and stir carefully. Serve with oysterette crackers. Offer hot sauce and catsup as condiments.