Oysters were plentiful along the U.S. east coast during the 1800s. They were cheap enough for the working class to buy.
Over time, though, the demand for oysters depleted many of the beds. Their scarcity caused prices to rise and oysters became an expensive delicacy.
ADVICE AND RECIPES FROM 1800s COOKBOOKS:
Oysters must be fresh and fat to be good and are in season from September to May. They are sometimes eaten during the summer months, but are not so palatable and are more apt to be contaminated by the bacteria of warm water. The bluish green color of some oysters is due to the oyster’s feeding upon vegetable materials and does not harm the flavor of the oyster. The small ones, such as are sold by the quart, are good for pies, fritters, or stews. The largest of this sort are nice for frying or pickling for family use.
Oysters are sometimes placed in fresh water streams or in water which is less salt [sic] than that in which they have grown to “fatten them.” The animals take in the fresh water, become plump, and increase in weight. If the water is sewage-polluted, the oysters become contaminated with dangerous bacteria. Methods of cooking usually applied to oysters, such as stewing and boiling, may not destroy all bacteria. Hence, the danger in eating oysters taken from polluted water.
Since oysters spoil readily, they must be kept cold during transportation. They are now shipped in containers surrounded by ice. Formerly ice was placed in contact with the oysters.
Drain off the liquor and if it is to be used, strain it through a fine strainer. Place the oysters in a strainer or colander, and wash them. Do not allow oysters to stand in water after washing. Run each oyster through the fingers to remove pieces of shell that may be clinging to it.
TO KEEP OYSTERS
Put them in a tub and cover them with salt and water. Let them remain for twelve hours. Then they are to be taken out and allowed to stand for another twelve hours without water. If left without water every alternate twelve hours, they will be much better than if constantly kept in it. Never put the same water twice to them.
liquor – juice or liquid
hot oven – 400 – 450 degrees
salt spoon – one-fourth teaspoon
Choose two dozen large oysters, and drain thoroughly in a colander, then dry in a towel. Dip first in sifted cracker-crumbs, then in one egg beaten with a tablespoon of cold water, half a teaspoon of salt, and a saltspoon of pepper. Roll again in crumbs and drop into boiling lard. If a wire frying-basket is used, lay them in this. Fry to a light brown. Lay them on brown paper a moment to drain, and serve at once on a hot platter. As they require hardly more than a minute to cook, it is better to wait till all are at the table before beginning to fry. Oysters are very good merely fried in a little hot butter; but the first method preserves their flavor best.
Put into a baking-dish one-half cup butter and one cup cream. Heat thoroughly but do not boil. Add three tablespoons sherry, one teaspoon anchovy paste, a dash of red pepper, and a grating of lemon-peel. Dip out one-half cup of the mixture and set aside. Put one quart of oysters into the baking-dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper, grated cheese, and dried bread-crumbs. Pour over carefully the remaining cream, sprinkle again with crumbs and cheese, and bake in a very hot oven. Serve immediately. If preferred, oysters may be baked this way in individual dishes.
Put into a saucepan one tablespoon butter and one teaspoon chopped onion. Fry the onion brown, then add one tablespoon flour and one teaspoon curry powder. Cook and stir until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Add one cup cream, and salt and pepper to season. Stir constantly until the sauce is thick. Add one quart of oysters with their liquor, and cook slowly until the edges of the oysters curl. Serve on toast.
Parboil a pint of oysters, skim out, drain, and cool. Chop coarsely. Mix with two hard- boiled eggs, chopped fine, two tablespoonfuls of bread-crumbs, salt, red pepper, and lemon-juice to season, and enough cream to make the mixture a smooth paste. Fill buttered oyster-shells with this mixture, cover with crumbs, dot with butter, and bake in a hot oven until brown.
OYSTERS IN BROWN SAUCE
Parboil a pint of oysters in their own liquor, skim out, and drain. Put into a saucepan one fourth cup butter, and cook until brown. Add one-fourth cup flour, and cook and stir until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Add one-half cup milk, one cup oyster liquor, one teaspoon anchovy paste, and salt and pepper to season. Cook until thick, add the oysters, reheat, and serve.
Put into a glass two teaspoons lemon-juice, two drops of tabasco sauce, half a teaspoon of Worcestershire, two teaspoons tomato catsup, a pinch of salt, and a saltspoon of paprika. Mix thoroughly and add five or six small fresh oysters. Let stand for five minutes, and serve very cold.
Drain one quart of oysters and put the liquor to heat in a saucepan. Add one cup cream, and salt and red pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, add two tablespoons butter, and thicken with one teaspoon flour rubbed smooth in a little cold milk. Cook and stir until it thickens. Add the oysters, simmer until the edges curl and take from the fire. Add the juice of half a lemon, and pour over thin slices of the buttered toast.
TO PICKLE OYSTERS
Blanch the oysters and strain off the liquor. Wash the oysters in three or four waters. Put them into a stewpan with their liquor and half a pint of white wine vinegar, two onions sliced thin, a little parsley and thyme, a blade of mace, six cloves, Jamaica pepper, a dozen corns of white pepper, and salt according to your taste. Boil up two or three minutes, let them stand till cold, then put them into a dish, and pour the liquor over them.