In October 1861 the Roundheads Regiment moved to Annapolis in preparation for an as-yet-undefined mission. The men were anxious to get into the war, but at the same time they were anxious about what was to come. They needed distraction.
In Chapter 2, you’ll read this passage:
If there was one attraction that outweighed all the others, it was the taste of oysters taken fresh from Chesapeake Bay. Most had never sampled this common seafood, but it took only once to make dedicated oyster connoisseurs out of landlocked farm boys. Shucked oysters were available all over town for six cents a pint, and hungry soldiers could down a quart or two without spoiling their appetites a bit. Once in a while, someone sold them a bad oyster, leading Nellie, who had grown up among oyster-rakers, to encourage the men to go out and gather their own. When she could escape her sick call duties, she walked with her volunteers down to the shoreline and showed the men how and where to gather them.
“Just don’t ever eat an oyster whose shell is already opened,” she cautioned. “It may look like you’re taking the easy way out, but chances are the little creature inside is sick enough—or dead enough—to make you wish you’d never met him.” When several of her pupils became skilled enough to rake in a real harvest, Nellie took them all back to the mess kitchen and gave the cooks a lesson in how to make an oyster stew. The respite from the sick room and the appreciation of the diners did much to bolster Nellie’s mood.
Here’s her recipe for Oyster Stew:
• 2 dozen oysters
• 1 ounce butter
• 3 tablespoons milk or cream
• white pepper
• Catsup (optional)
• Parsley, chopped fine (optional)
• Grated lemon peel (optional)
• Lemon juice (optional)
• Thin cut strips of bread
Large oysters will do for stewing, and by some are preferred; but we love the plump, juicy natives. Stew a couple of dozen of these in their own liquor; when they are coming to a boil, skim well, take them up and beard them; strain the liquor through a tamis-sieve, and lay the oysters on a dish.
Put an ounce of butter into a stew-pan; when it is melted, put to it as much flour as will dry it up, the liquor of the oysters, and three tablespoons of milk or cream, and a little white pepper and salt; to this some cooks add a little catsup, or finely-chopped parsley, grated lemon-peel, and juice; let it boil up for a couple of minutes, till it is smooth, then take it off the fire, put in the oysters, and let them get warm (they must not themselves be boiled, or they will become hard); line the bottom and sides of a hash-dish with bread-sippets, and pour your oysters and sauce into it.
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