Mary Thomas' Oyster Dressing

Mary Thomas is Richard's mother.  This recipe was likely handed down from her mother.

Richard comments:  "Some people like onion and celery in their dressing, but my mother prefers dressing without those additional ingredients."

John Comments:  "I have a oyster love/hate relationship, unrelated to Mary's recipe.  It was when I was young—on my first extended visit to my Maryland in-laws over Christmas—that I first encountered oysters.  As an upstate New York boy I had never even seen one before—ugly looking things!  It was the tradition that my father-in-law would buy a five-gallon pail of shucked oysters for the season—hundreds and hundreds of the things sloshing around in their natural juices.  He also made a homegrown moonshine, which was kept in a basement hide-a-way (everyone pretended it wasn't there, including my mother-in-law who forbade drinking in the house.)  The first evening, the men kept kept sneaking off to the basement. They finally got me totally sloshed. The next morning I had a terrific hang-over, but struggled down to an early breakfast—they were farmers of a very-very-old Maryland family.  And there on the table was a huge platter of fried oysters!  All eyes turned when the plate came past me. Of course, I had to show my manhood, and took a nice helping, and feigned my love.  I managed to get them all down, and was sick as a dog for the rest of the day.  I was never sure whether it was the oysters or the moonshine.  They had fried oysters at every meal for a week.  I never looked at another oyster for many years, but eventually learned to love them.  I later learned from my ex-wife that my in-laws were greatly amused—and that most of the children of her generation would never touch the things.  It was my father-in-law's once-a year "tradition."  I later learned to love oysters, but still sometimes feel queasy after a lunch of them at our local eatery, Varni's.  Especially if a whiskey or two is involved

[Below, my comments are in brackets.]


[The key to this recipe is the cornbread and biscuits.  This recipe makes a "country farm" batch of dressing.  You may want to cut it back.  Oyster dressing is not for everyone.  I usually do not use it as a bird stuffing, as some think it imparts an "unusual" taste to the bird—we happen to like it though.]

  • Make a skillet of cornbread using the recipe on the side of the Aunt Jemima yellow cornmeal box. [Use less sugar—Aunt Jemima must have had a real sweet tooth.  See also this Corn Bread Recipe.]

  • Make a double recipe of biscuits in a big baking pan.  Just double the Bisquick recipe.  You won't need all all the biscuits for the dressing.  [Use the extra biscuit squares for a Creamed Beef breakfast.]

  • Put in the number of biscuits you think you need for the amount of cornbread you have, but not the entire recipe of biscuits.  [I add nearly all the biscuits.]

  • Add: 

    • Sage (the amount you need) [I actually use Bell's season, about three teaspoons.  Taste as you add.]

    • 4 cans of oysters (drained).  [Fresh oysters are now readily available at most supermarkets, especially around the holidays; use the fresh if you can.  Both the canned and fresh come in 8 oz. containers.  I drain the canned oysters, but put the juice from the fresh into the dressing.  The fresh oysters may need to be chopped into smaller pieces (marble size or a bit larger).  We have oysters here on Long Island, which are sometimes pulled from the market due to contamination.  I notice the ones in our stores usually come from from Washington state, Georgia, or Nova Scotia.  Knowing American agribusiness, I suspect we send our contaminated oysters to them, and they send theirs to us.  Except that the Canadians, which are smarter than us, would never accept American oysters—they know better.]

    • [2 medium onions, several stalks of celery with leaves, several medium sized mushrooms, all chopped fine, and lightly sautéed in 1/4 lb. of butter until onions are translucent.  Do not let butter brown.  I usually add the oysters to this mixture to cook through before adding to the bread and biscuits.]

  • Mix turkey broth into dressing.  (Richard comments:  "My mother doesn't cook her turkey in the oven.  She boils it on top of the stove with quite a bit of water.  This way she has enough broth for everything she needs:  gravy, egg noodles, and dressing.")
    [Since I don't usually have turkey broth available, I use canned chicken broth with excellent results.  I usually boil the chicken or turkey neck, heart and gizzard in the broth before preparation, making enough broth for both gravy and dressings.  When I bone the bird, I, of course, have plenty of carcass to work with.  I do not add the liver, as I prefer this sautéed and served separately.  The meat is separated from the bones, chopped fine, and added to bread stuffing (not the oyster dressing) before it is placed in the bird.  I use an old fashioned hand meat grinder for the meat pieces, which makes a nice texture in bread stuffing.
    Dressing should be moist but not wet.]

  • Put in a baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil.

  • Bake until done.  [Use 350° F. oven.  45 minutes should be enough, but check several times.  Do not let dressing get overly crispy around the edges.  Dressing may be made ahead of time, warmed in a microwave (low power) or oven, and fluffed just before serving.  Add broth if too dry, but don't make it too moist either.]