My friend Leni has been cooking her way through the classic Mary Randolph cookbook “The Virginia Housewife“. As part of that project, she hosted a dinner at her home recently featuring recipes from it. She asked if I would come lend a hand serving and ensuring everything went smoothly. I absolutely said yes because not only did it involve quality time cooking with my dear friend, it also meant quality time talking old cookbooks and food history with someone who shares my enthusiasm on the subject while also being incredibly knowledgeable on the subject.
The meal itself was fairly simple for four courses – gaspacha (spelled in the original early 19th century manner), a salad with tarragon dressing and an oyster loaf, roast chicken and macaroni pie and apple compote with fresh whipped cream for dessert.
I failed to get a photo of the gaspacha and I swear, it is not at all related to my personal feelings about it. Really. I was fussing with the oyster loafs and otherwise occupied.
The evening was a lovely one – full of good food, wine, company and conversation. Leni’s planning on more of these, so you need to consider attending one. I can’t think of an evening better spent than discussing food and history while out at Leni’s farmhouse. Keep an eye on her website for more information as well as her post on the dinner.
Before I get into the oyster loafs further, I’m going to share another tip with you from the Mary Randolph cookbook – cook your macaroni in half milk, half water. Just do it. You won’t need another thing on that pasta except for a little butter, I guarantee. Although mixing some cheese up with it is awfully nice too.
Okay. Let’s talk about these oyster loafs. They are essentially a hollowed out roll filled with oysters and bread crumbs from said roll cooked with their liquor in cream, tucked into the shell of the roll, then baked. Very simple and very, very good. We (Leni) tweaked the recipe so that we coated the inside of the roll with garlic butter, toasted it for 10 minutes, then filled them, baked them and served them. Couldn’t be easier or tastier. Leni and I discussed how lovely they’d be with a bit of ham in them or with some shrimp and crawdads. The possibilities are sort of endless, because cream and carbs (rolls) with anything are a lovely mix. I highly recommend you plan on making some version of this sometime soon.
Mary Randolph’s Oyster Loaves
(as adapted by Leni Sorensen)
Cut off the top and hollow out crusty rolls – a ciabatta or french roll would be lovely. Scrape out the interior and toast the crumbs. Coat the interior of the rolls with garlic butter and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine a good hunk of butter, oysters and their liquor and the toasted crumbs in a saucepan. Stew together for 10-15 minutes, then add a generous bit of cream. Cook until the mixture is thickened. Spoon into loaves, putting the crust on top and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.