By Bob Chrisman
Here’s to you, Aunt Annie!, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.
A cup of tea with sugar brings back memories of my first cup, the day my mother said, “You’re old enough to drink tea.” Sacks of pale orange “circus peanuts” remind me of the stale ones in Grandma Hecker’s candy dish. Homemade caramel-covered apples take me to Mrs. Wallace’s kitchen where I taste tested them the night before Halloween. Ritz crackers transport me to Mrs. Thompson’s house where we played Ring-Around-The-Rosie.
Certain recipes hold special memories. I bake scalloped potatoes topped with pork chops the same way my mother did and in the same glass loaf dish. When I make Hamburger Splatter, I remember the adults who my mother babysat when they were children stopping by for the recipe. My favorite holiday dish recipe is scalloped oysters. Aunt Annie, Mom’s youngest sister, made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I asked my cousins why their mom fixed such an exotic dish for such meat-and-potatoes people. Neither of them knew but thought a neighbor might have given the recipe to Aunt Annie. Oysters don’t grow in northwest Missouri. My mother and her sisters didn’t have unusual tastes in food. Yet every holiday dinner, sitting next to the freshly roasted turkey, the real mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the fresh raspberry pies made from home-canned raspberries, we’d find the scalloped oysters.
I asked my aunt for the recipe. I didn’t want her to pass away without someone having it. “I don’t really have a recipe anymore. I just know how to make it,” she said. She wrote down the ingredients and instructions on a piece of notebook paper, which I lost the first time I used it. My recipe, which I carried in my head until now, captures the taste and consistency of the original.
Scalloped oysters remind me of family gatherings when my mother, her sisters and their husbands were in their prime. I remember long prayers while we held hands followed by huge meals, hours of card games, and the feeling of being loved.
Most of all I remember my Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete. They loved one another very much. They had an ease with one another and they treated each other with respect. She wasn’t always easy to live with (none of the sisters were), but Uncle Pete never fell out of love with her. I always thought, of all the sisters, Aunt Annie had the happiest marriage.
Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image
© 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.
Photographs from the 1940’s capture a dashing young man in a military uniform and a dark-haired beauty. They made a striking couple all of their lives.
After he returned from the war, they bought a little house on Garden Street where they raised their three children and hosted many holiday dinners. I always envied my cousins for the parents they had.
I grew closer to them as I aged. Many times I would leave my mother’s house and stop by theirs before I drove home. Aunt Annie told me stories about her sisters and the family, things my mother never mentioned. Uncle Pete would interrupt, when he could, to offer his two cents on the subject. I loved them both and came to treasure those times with just the two of them.
Uncle Pete died of pancreatic cancer in October 1996. His death broke Aunt Annie’s heart. They had been married for over 50 years. She went through the motions of living for about a year before she took sick and died in December, 1997. I think that he was waiting for her when she passed. If he had anything to say about it, I know he was.
Here’s the recipe for her famous scalloped oysters. I hope the recipe generates some good memories for you and your families.
Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009
by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.
Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters
1 1-pound loaf of Velveeta Cheese (sliced)
32 Saltine cracker squares (approximately one package out of a box of four)
4-5 8-ounce cans of oysters (pieces-and-bits or whole or a combination)*
2 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk**
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice Velveeta Cheese into slices about an eighth of an inch thick. Open four cans of oysters and drain off most of the liquid. (Note: Keep some to pour into the casserole to add more oyster flavor, if desired.)
Use a casserole dish that has a lid (even though the lid isn’t used except for storage of leftovers). Grease it with your choice of oil; I prefer butter.
Then begin the layering process:
Crush enough Saltine crackers to make a layer on the bottom of the dish. Next place a layer of oysters with some liquid from the can. Cover with a layer of slices of Velveeta Cheese. Pour enough evaporated milk to wet the layers. Repeat.
The amount of the ingredients given above makes about three layers. Top the dish with another layer of Velveeta Cheese. Bake until the cheese on top is melted and a warm brown, about 90 minutes (longer if you want it crustier).
This dish will serve at least 8-10 people and maybe 10-14 if plenty of other food is available. You can make smaller portions by using a loaf pan and only making two layers. I do that when I have no one else to join me. The leftovers make a tasty, if unusual, breakfast treat.
*The number of cans of oysters you buy will determine on how “oyster-y” you want the dish to be. I found that four cans make generous layers. I usually buy two cans of pieces-and-bits and two cans of whole oysters.
**You will have approximately 1/2 can of evaporated milk left when you finish. My youngest cousin says that she uses regular milk.
Hopefully you have a strong heart and clean arteries. Bon appetit.
Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. His other red Ravine posts include Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.
We’d like to thank Bob for providing this recipe and the story of the aunt who inspired it. And thank you, Aunt Annie! We’ve been dreaming about scalloped oysters since last Thanksgiving, when Bob made mention of the dish in a conversation in the post Reflections On The Other National Bird.