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September has an ‘R’ for oysters

It’s not the promise of cooler weather that makes me so happy to see the month of September, after all it could be late October before we get that.

Rather it is the name September it’s self. You see old habits die hard, and what’s that saying? “Never eat oysters in a month without an ‘R’ in it.”

People say this with such authority that one has to wonder what happens during those months that raises such concern.

The answer is a simple one — love is in the air. These are the months that oysters spawn and reproducing takes a lot of effort and energy. Soon they are done but the result is that the oysters are soft and mushy with a milky appearance. So it’s really a flavor issue not a health issue. This is made even more interesting by the fact that Aug. 5 was National Oyster Day.

During the hot months of summer without an ‘R’ in them I rarely eat oysters on the half shell. I buy the ones that are shucked and make other yummy dishes with them instead. So if you aren’t quite ready for the half-shell here are two of my favorite oyster recipes. I’m going to wait just a little longer before I hit the raw ones, but I’m stocking up on lemons and plain saltine crackers in anticipation!

Oyster soup

4 dozen oysters in their liquor (juice, don’t get rid of this)

1 stick of butter

2 bunches green onions, cleaned and chopped, green and white part

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 inside stalks of celery, chopped finely

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup heavy cream

1 bunch of fresh parsely leaves, chopped

Salt

Pepper (most restaurants use white pepper for aesthetics)

Cayenne pepper or hot sauce (I use Tabasco)

Place the oysters and their liquor in a pan and bring to a low heat to poach for just about 8 minutes, until they are plump. Remove from the heat set the oysters aside and reserve the juice, adding water to it until you have 2 quarts of liquid.

Heat the butter in a large pot and saute the green onions, yellow onion, garlic and celery until they are tender, do not brown. Stir in the flour to make a smooth paste and cook for a minute or two, just to get rid of the raw flour taste, do not brown. Slowly whisk in the oyster liquor and water and the cream. Heat until just under boiling. Add the parsley and poached oysters. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Cooking up a storm

This next recipe combines two of my favorite ingredients, oysters and artichokes. I found the original recipe in the Traces of Natchez cookbook from Trinity School. It called for crab meat but I have made a few changes and swapped in oysters instead, and it is wonderful.

Oyster-artichoke casserole

1 1/2 cup half and half

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Tabasco to taste

1 cup Swiss cheese

1 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and sautéed

1 quart oysters, drained (sometimes I use more)

2 jars of artichoke hearts, not the marinated ones

1 small jar pimento

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons sherry

Bread crumbs or Panko

Parsley

Melt the butter in a skillet and whisk in the flour, cook just for a minute or two to get rid of the raw flour taste but do not brown. Slowly whisk in the half and half. While this is heating, mix all of the other ingredients in a bowl except for the bread crumbs and parsley. Pour the warm roux over the bowl contents and gently mix. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Place uncovered in a 325-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Christina Hall writes a weekly column for The Democrat. She can be reached at christina.hall@natchezdemocrat.com.