The turkey’s red, white, and blue head lolled over the edge of the utility sink in my grandparents’ basement. Brown-and-white feathers fluttered down to the floor. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my grandfather and uncle had fulfilled their duty of hunting down the bird. Now with rifles put away, they could sit back, relax, and pretend to watch football while actually dozing in their recliners. If only they had known, I had secretly wished they had gone shellfishing at the shore instead of tromping through the meadows of western Pennsylvania.
My grandmother spent hours preparing the turkey: After the gory process of transforming it from a recognizable creature into a bald, trussed-up carcass, she slid it into the oven to roast. There it sat for hours, beckoning her into the kitchen to baste. After all that effort, that bird should have been the star. However, despite my mother’s excitement about my great-grandmother’s rolls (dry and tasteless to my five-year-old palate), the most sought-after dish on the table was a simple dish of Saltine crackers, oysters, milk, and butter: scalloped oysters.
Around the table we passed the Pyrex baking dish of shellfish, slightly burned on the edges–just the way I liked them. I made sure to take a heaping serving because I knew the dish wouldn’t make it around a second time. When we reconvened for dinner that evening and lunch the following day, we’d make turkey sandwiches to go with leftover mashed potatoes, but there would be no more oysters. Not until next Thanksgiving, at least.
I still make scalloped oysters for holiday dinners. Grandpa, Grandma, and Mom are gone, and the rest of the family is scattered, celebrating far away. Yet, when the rich, briny aroma with a hint of the buttery Saltines wafts out of my kitchen, I’m back at the family table, waiting impatiently for my cousin to pass the oysters.
1 ½ cup Saltine crackers
½ pint oysters, drained, reserving 2 Tbsp of liquor
3 Tbsp milk
3 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper, to tast
- Grease a 10-inch glass baking dish with butter.
- Crush the Saltine crackers until in ¼-inch pieces, not too fine.
- Warm the milk and butter in a pan until butter is melted.
- Place a thin layer of cracker crumbs in the bottom of the prepared dish and top with a layer of oysters.
- Sprinkle more cracker crumbs over oysters, then lay remaining oysters in another layer.
- Top with remaining cracker crumbs, then drizzling the milk and butter mixture over the whole dish, making sure the liquid gets down to the bottom layer.
- Drizzle the reserved oyster liquor over the dish.
- Bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees, until top is golden.