Mary Thomas' Oyster Dressing
Mary Thomas is Richard's mother. This recipe
was likely handed down from her mother.
"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
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
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.]
Sage (the amount you need) [I actually use Bell's
season, about three teaspoons.
Taste as you add.]
4 cans of oysters (drained).
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
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
[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.]