Here at Hungry Native, we’re always on the lookout for interesting old cookbooks, particularly if they’re from this region. Vittles for the Captain: A Cape Cod Cookbook was published in 1941, by the Modern Pilgrim Press in Provincetown, MA.
Compiled by Harriet Adams, with historical and sometimes really funny comments by N.M. Halper, it is comprised mainly of seafood recipes “handed down for generations”.
This recipe for oyster soup caught our eyes mostly because of its simplicity. With just oysters, salt, pepper, butter, flour and milk, it seemed a great example of what Cape Cod cuisine might be like a hundred years ago.
Even though the book refers to this recipe as “relatively recent”, we’re pretty sure that oysters were far less of a luxury item then as it calls for a quart of them, which would be quite expensive these days.
Deciding to roughly quarter the recipe, we bought twenty Katama Bay Oysters from The Net Result which, when shucked, worked out to about 1 cup.
Heating the milk (we used whole milk) and oyster water slowly is important, to prevent the milk from boiling over or scorching. Once the mixture was steaming we put it through a fine mesh strainer and returned it to the pot, then added the oysters. Not wanting the oysters to become rubbery, we added the milk and flour mixture, butter and seasoned with salt and pepper, then removed the soup from the heat after a minute or so.
The soup had a very strong warm milk aroma and a buttery sheen on top. Initially, the milk and butter flavors dominate, but they gradually give way to a briny oyster flavor towards the end of each bite. With such a quick cooking time, the oysters had firmed up a little, but were still perfectly floppy on the spoon. We were a bit worried that the soup taste of raw flour, but that wasn’t the case.
Because of the relatively plain nature of the soup, the flavor of the oysters is very prominent. Consequentially, we’d recommend using the best quality oysters you can find, something you wouldn’t hesitate to eat raw. This is definitely a seafood lover’s soup. If you like fresh oysters, you’ll really enjoy it. If you’re not a fan of raw oysters, you might still want to give it a chance, as it mellows their flavor a bit and isn’t too far away from a good clam chowder. Simple as it was, we thought this was a great basic soup recipe that really let its ingredients shine. That said, it could probably be made even better with the addition of a little onion or shallots.
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