Christmas Oysters

When I was growing up we went to my grandparents’ house every year on Christmas morning. Along with the usual farm breakfast feast, there would be fried oysters and oyster stew. It was the only day of the year we had oysters. They were a Christmas morning, once-a-year treat.

I’ve long wondered about the origin of that food tradition. Why do Southerners have fried oysters on Christmas day, even when they’re not otherwise part of the food culture?

Some say the custom came to America with Irish Catholic immigrants. Not being permitted to eat meat on Christmas Eve (but with seafood permissible) the Irish substituted oysters instead.

But given that Catholics were are as rare as hen’s teeth in this part of the world, that explanation seemed unsatisfactory to me.

Recently I discovered an answer that makes more sense. It seems that beginning in the late 19th century, railroads would ship oysters and oranges from the east coast into the interior of the country as Christmas-time treats, causing oysters to become associated with Christmas, along with oranges and Brazil nuts.

Whatever the reason, I always looked forward to fried oysters on Christmas morning, a culinary tradition that is now disappearing here.

Knowing my fondness for Christmas oysters, but not having any actual oysters on hand, yesterday Cherie treated us to a locavore version of the old favorite. We had Po Boy sandwiches made from “faux oyster” cauliflower. These are unbelievably delicious (I know what you’re thinking, I was skeptical too) and the taste and texture really do remind you of fried oysters. Honestly, they’re so good I think I’d choose a cauliflower “oyster” Po Boy over the real thing.

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Of course there’s a lot more to look forward to on Christmas Day than just oysters. We enjoyed my mother’s amazing Southern home-cooking–homemade biscuits, fried pork chops, fried apples, string beans, vegetable soup, chocolate pie–as well as cake and ice cream at our granddaughter’s birthday party (she was a Christmas baby).

Beautiful weather, lots of family time and good food. It was a very merry Christmas.

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