Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Christmas Eve and Oyster Stew
Too soon to be writing about Christmas you say? Christmas Eve is only two months from today. Actually there are two reasons for me to be thinking about Oyster Stew and Christmas Eve. The first is because when I was visiting with two of my cousins at a funeral two weeks ago, we got to remembering our Grandpa Joe - what a wonderful Grandpa he was and how none of our kids got to know him because he died when my cousins and I were still teenagers.
The second is because a neighbor of ours recently returned from a visit to New Orleans. He was talking about the seafood - shrimp and oysters. He said when he was a kid they always had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. I said that was what we always had on Christmas Eve, too, at my Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour's.
I'm feeling very sentimental right now, looking at this picture of my Grandpa and remembering times with him. I recently found this picture and the one below. I have so few photos of him. My brother Ron used to say he was a "man's man" - probably because he liked hunting and fishing and stood up for what was right. I think of him being considerate, interested in his grandchildren, polite, but not a pushover. But back to the oyster stew.
Why are oysters a tradition on Christmas Eve? One website says the Irish immigrants brought the tradition of eating ling fish stew on Christmas Eve, but ling fish weren't available in their new country so they substituted oysters which were the closest in taste to ling fish. Another website suggests it was the Pennsylvania Dutch (who are really of German ancestry) who brought the custom with them. Grandpa Joe was Pennsylvania Dutch, so that might have something to do with why we always had oyster stew at their home on Christmas Eve.
Of course, it could have been just because it was a treat. The old saying used to be only eat oysters in the months containing an R. That was because in the days before refrigeration seafood wouldn't stay edible as long as it took to get it from the coasts except during the cold months. When I was young, all the grocery stores had fresh oysters in time for Christmas Eve.
The thing was, none of us kids liked oyster stew. I can remember being very young and Mom taking all the oysters out of the soup and floating a handful of those cute little oyster crackers in it for us to eat. But that oyster taste was still there. Ew-w-w. Icky. Eventually Grandma had to start making either potato soup or chili for the non-oyster eaters. Oh, those oyster crackers - the only time we ever had them was at Grandpa and Grandma's on Christmas Eve. At our house we only had those perforated saltines about four inches square that you broke into perfect fourths before crushing into your soup.
This picture is SO how I best remember my Grandpa - with an unfiltered Lucky Strike in his mouth, wearing a starched white shirt with striped overalls and his trademark brown felt hat. Grandpa's full name was Joseph Rufus Ridnour. He usually went by Joe, but also by J.R. When I look back in the diaries from my teenage years, I find that I often wrote things like, "Went down to J.R.'s," or, "J.R.'s were here." It is something I might have done to save space instead of writing "Grandpa and Grandma were here". But I think I did it just as much out of affection for my Grandpa Joe.
Know what else? I could eat a bowl of oyster stew right now.