Monday, February 20, 2017

Oyster Soup with Bacon: A 19th Century Baltimore Recipe

Recipe Provenance
The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

The Recipe: Oyster Soup

Take two quarts of oysters, drain them with a fork from their liquor, wash them in water to free them from grit, take 2 slices of bacon cut in small pieces, some parsley, thyme & onion, strain the liquor & pour all together in your taste, when they are almost done add a lump of butter the size of an egg rolled in flour & and a gill of good cream.

About the Recipe

Because this recipe, like so many historic recipes, is really more of an aide memoire (just notes to help guide you rather than a detailed instructional recipe), I needed to turn to other period and/or Maryland recipes for Oyster Soup to try to understand Morris's recipe a bit better. Here is a recipe from the 1869 publication of Domestic Cookery by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea who was born just ten miles west of Baltimore in Ellicott City. Apart from Morris's addition of bacon, the recipes are quite similar.

Oyster Soup: Modern Recipe Adaptation
Serves 2

  • 1 24-Ounce Container of Shucked Oysters
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 Strips of Bacon, Cut in Small Pieces (plus extra cooked bacon for a garnish, if desired)
  • 1 Small Onion, Diced
  • 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Chopped
  • 2 Teaspoons Fresh Thyme Leaves
  • 1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
  • Salt and White or Black Pepper to Taste
  1. Drain and rinse the oysters; remove any grit found in them. Set aside.
  2. In an enamel-coated cast iron Dutch Oven or thick-bottomed stockpot, melt the butter over very low heat and then add the bacon pieces and diced onions. Cook over low heat until the bacon is crisp and the onions are soft. Add the flour and cook about three minutes to cook the flour.
  3. Add the water and stir. Then, add the oysters, herbs, and salt and pepper, to taste.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for three minutes.
  4. Add the cream and cook an an additional three minutes, or until the cream is heated.
  5. Serve immediately topped with the extra crispy bacon as a garnish (optional).

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