Over the past few weeks I've been reading through The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph. I bought a facsimile of it in P-Town in 2008 while I was shopping with Kalvin of San Fransisco, from Hello Waffles fame. Kalvin was in P-Town for a Bear convention and I wanted to meet him. I'd communicated with him for over a year, but never met him. So I popped down to P-Town, had lunch with him and then we went shopping.
Since that time I've perused it many times imagining the dishes. It may be my favorite, post colonial American cookbook. It was originally published in 1824 and came about after Ms. Randolph's fortunes were diminished. She was a well known for giving the best dinner parties before she lost her money, and afterwards ran a boarding house, which only sharpened her cooking savvy. So what's a gal to do when she's down and out? Collect her recipes and publish them. This is similar to how The Joy of Cooking came in to being. Do I see a pattern?
The first recipe I tried from The Virginia Housewife was Walnut Ketchup. We have a Black Walnut tree and it just seemed like fate. I had just bought the book when the walnut tree just sprouted young tender green walnuts. Just what was required. Also, it sounded unusual and I really was curious about the taste. And how did they taste? Young walnuts, that were soaked in brine, taste like lime. I was surprised. The finished product, the Walnut Ketchup, was closer in flavor to Worcestershire sauce. I will make it again, when I don't forget to harvest the young walnuts. Maybe this summer.
Until that time, there are plenty of other ketchups and sauces to make. Just the other day, while I was looking through the book and thinking of the Walnut Ketchup I made in 2008, I come across a recipe for Oyster Ketchup. At first I thought it was kind of disgusting, but then I remembered that fish based sauces have been around a long time. The Romans had Garum, a type of fermented fish sauce. Today, cooks use anchovies for flavor and the Asian cooks was all sorts of fish sauce, which can be purchased in the international food aisle in the grocery store. So I decided that Oyster Ketchup might not be so bad. Also the recipe was super easy to make.
8 oz Fresh Oysters or canned [I'll talk about this later.]
8 oz dry white wine
2 T kosher salt
1 t ground mace
1 t cayenne pepper
1. Put the ingredients, except the brandy, in a blender and liquefy the oysters.
2. Put into a pan and boil for 15-20 minutes, skimming off the scum. Reduce to about 1 1/2 cups.
3. Put into a 2 cup bottle and add 1/2 c of brandy, more or less.
4. Keep in the refrigerator. I've had mine for several weeks and is still fresh.
That's my take on Mary's recipe. I've made it twice. The first time I used 8 oz. of 'fresh' oysters and the result was a thin, milky, tasty liquid. The second time I used two 4 oz cans of oysters and the result was thick and green, but still tasty.
Mary suggests that Oyster Ketchup is best used in white sauces. So I made a white sauce with the oyster ketchup and served it with fish. It was good. It is hard to describe the flavor. You can taste the oyster but together with the mace and cayenne pepper, you have a unique flavor. Try it out and let me know what you think of it and how you use it. I was talking with a friend of mine, Leila, and she thought it would be good cooked with olive oil and garlic and served over pasta. I haven't tried that, but I think it is a good idea.
Next time I may write about the Mushroom Ketchup I am making right now.