“So the food I would like to talk about is a casserole that my grandmother used to make and she only made it on special occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. And it was her domain, like no matter where we celebrated the holiday; she was the one who made this dish. And it was an oyster casserole. Don’t make that face it is really good. I can taste it now. It’s an oyster casserole. That reflects – I grew up in Maryland and so the Chesapeake Bay is the body of water where I grew up. And like the Chesapeake Bay is known for seafood. And oysters are one of the biggest crops of the Chesapeake Bay: oysters, blue crabs, and rockfish. Those are the three main like crops or whatever from the Chesapeake Bay. So like when I grew up, life revolved around the water. We always ate a lot of seafood. Seafood was like our way to be connected to our environment. And like you would eat oysters fried, raw, in casserole, baked, like they were really popular. So Grandma Boyd, I don’t know if she developed the recipe but it was like her secret recipe. Um so it was a secret recipe, it reflects our family’s heritage of the Chesapeake Bay.
“And actually, I remember when I was little, Pop Pop [Mona’s father] and I would go, my dad and I would go, to the seafood place and buy the raw oysters for the casserole. We would go buy and bring it home and she would make the casseroles. She would make two big ones, two big casseroles. And she would um bring them and bake them at the house wherever the dinner was. And then everyone would, it was very coveted, everyone would fight over the oysters. Everyone wanted more than one helping. There would be all this good food, but everyone wanted to hog the oysters. And basically, all they are is layers of pan with crushed up cracker crumbs, salt pepper, butter, and chunks of butter, and she would lay the oysters on it, and another layer of cracker crumbs and more layers of oysters and break crumbs. Oh my goodness it is so good you can’t even image. She knew would how to make them just right.
When did you first experience/hear about the tradition?
“Probably when like I want to say 1968 when I was eight years old. I remember they became more popular as the years went on. Like within the family. People just knew how good they were. Like you couldn’t have a holiday meal without the oysters. It wouldn’t have been a prober meal. Grandma’s oysters.”
What was your grandma’s name?
“Ella Louise Boyd – we called her Louise.”
Who typically took part in this tradition?
“Me, and mom and dad, Aunt Liz and Uncle Carl, Grandma Boyd, um and usually Uncle Mike and Aunt Pam, Brittney and Amy my cousins, and anybody’s family who was around. Sometimes Uncle Dan, sometimes Uncle Bob and his wife Francie. Sometimes cousin Trace, my cousin Donna and her husband Earl.”
What do you see as the significance or role of tradition in your family?
“Its like just a very, it’s a comfort food. Some families mashed potatoes or turkey is the comfort food, the oyster casserole was the comfort food.”
And when exactly would this tradition appear?
“Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. It wasn’t ever made any other time. We always used to eat steamed crabs. That’s a whole other business though.”
This tradition represents more than just a comfort food for the informant’s family. The oyster casserole seems to unite her family during the holiday season, giving them a delicious meal to celebrate around. The informant is clearly very involved in this tradition because she has grown up taking part in it from a young age. The oyster casserole also enables the informant to really take part in her family’s culture because her and her father collect the oysters themselves. It is unique that this tradition also unites the family back to their environment. The oysters represent both her family’s unity but also the local traditions of the Chesapeake Bay.