Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cultured Pearls

I adore oysters and all manner of oyster cusine. Not the least of the sensory pleasure I associate with oysters is the cultured oyster service plate. I sigh deeply each time I come across oyster plates in an antique shop: It is the double whammy butler's pantry antique: People don't serve oysters at home any longer. And when they do, they will slam them down on any old thing, as if they do not have a home or a place of their own. For example:

Traditional Home and the recipe for a New Orleans original, Oysters Bienville.

The plate above and the food upon it is pretty and it has been painstakingly stylized to be so. But in reality, this is a service nightmare. They look like they slid around the plate on the way to the table because they did. A little messy. A little disorganized. Very unneccesary: Someone, please kindly throw a bed of salt underneath these gems to help them keep their places. They want you to notice the plate, so we understand why they did it. But that is a magazine shot; in reality, if you drop Oysters Rockefellar in my lap, I will not be interested in gazing upon your comely plate so it is indeed important to select the right vessel.

This is the animal that prevents the serving disaster most associated with shellfish:

Southern Accents

Ah, the shellfish plate. Do not get too hung up on the scallop pattern, these plates are intended to service all manner of mollusk (one would have to be a very fussy pantry person to have separate plates for each variety). Once, these seemed archaic Grandmother's-pantry items: Right up there with depression glass fruit cups, they were creatures from an age long since dead which serviced foods we do not serve at home any longer or could not be easily utilized in a modern enviorment.

People do not serve oysters at home very much anymore. There was a time when they were common place especially in the Christmas season in the South. Certainly, when standing at the fish monger's shop, the oysters are intimidating looking, aren't they? But they need not be off-putting. The fish monger will happily open the oysters and shell them into a container for you with the liquor (which you will want for chowders and bisques). He is charging you for the whole oyster, and will be just as overjoyed to throw the shells into a bag for you to use for cooking or serving. You will need your cheerful monger to do this for you for many oyster (clam and scallop) dishes as the brineness of cooking Oysters Rockefellar, Bienville, and Florentine and countless others contributes to the flavor of the dish. If you wish to serve oysters and clams on the half shell or as shooters at home, this is how it is done to avoid shucking them yourself.

Oh! You were not thinking the Hostess shucked these herself, were you? Indeed! While teetering on my Kate kitten heels or wearing white pants, I busted out the chain mail gloves and rubberized apron as the guests arrived and greeted distractedly as I pulled oyster shell bits from my blow out. Oh, no, stop, that makes me giggle.

No, no. The fish guy shucked the oysters below for me. I chopped them. If I am making fried oysters at Christmas time, I take them home whole and serve them on oyster plates in their shells because it is so pretty. This oyster fritter could have a shell under it also, I suppose, but really, I have enough to be neurotic about.

This is a picture from an ordinary weekday dinner in our home. I did not make the remolade. Nor did I set the table or take the picture, there are still some guests who help out and are learning, ok? It appears here to demonstrate just how conquerable this food type is for everyday meals. And there is my favorite oyster plate: White and dishwasher safe. Nothing Granny or fussy about it. But, induldge me here, I will come back to that in a jiff...

Antique oyster plate collectors have a wealth of pieces to seek out and gather. These are just a few examples I selected from the impressive collection belonging to Patrick at You will note they date from the 1880's to latest, the 1950's, which is about the time oysters at home began to fall from hostess favor. I selected just a few but as you can tell, they were all manner of plate: Porcelain, pottery, hand painted, majolica, minimalist and ornate. Once, they were as regular a part of a refined bridal registry as a coffee pot. One will have few choices when buying these new today, undoubtedly they were no longer revenue-generating assortment pieces not unlike another rarely heard from item: The shellfish fork. But once, the artistic pursuit of a glorious oyster plate was vigorous, as you can plainly see.

Wedgewood, Pensies. 1880's.

United Porcelain Works, American. 1900.

Moustiers, France, Tolosane Kaki. 1920's, the Hostess' personal favorite.

Badour, Beligium, Gold Rim 1920's.

Limoges, France, Lanternier. 1920's.

Limoges, Cobalt and Gold. 1920's.

Choisy, France. 1920's.

Sarreguemines, France, Digoin Roquefort. 1930's.

Longwy, France, Vanielle Fraise. 1950's.

Antique and vintage oyster plates featured above are courtesy of Patrick at
where a 10% discount for Blushing readers is available by using coupon code HOSTESS.

As you can see from the above, the oyster plate is not obliged, even in antiquity, to look old-fashioned or lack style. In my estimation, the pieces above would suit many modern variants and should be reconsidered for the plate battalion as should the oyster itself for the menu.

If you are interested in collecting oyster plates, you will be pleased to know that in 2001, a notable book on the topic of collecting antique and vintage oyster plates was published and is available here.

And while the Hostess is all for reading, you need not feel you need a comprehensive shape and pattern education. Like anything you put in your home: Love it or do not buy it. No one worth inviting to the table would dream of turning a plate over to check the mark, so do not buy self-consciously, it does not pay.

If you are intersted in attractive, reasonable, easy care options, these two are fabulous:

I love the two piece set above from Target. These come with the sauce cup which is great and are a fun option for beachy gatherings or just a little nod to the ocean.

Cordon Bleu Oyster Plate, . Pretty, easy care, not over the top and not coincidentally, the one I use which I actually found for $1.00 a piece at Homegoods.

In the less reasonable category are these lovely plates still made private label for the Historic Charleston Foundation.

While oysters are, by some logic, best not consumed in the month of June, I will otherwise serve them all the time. And if Kumamotos are available, I will eat them six meals a day. The Kumamoto, for those of you thinking you cannot stand oysters, is a marvelous place to reintroduce yourself: Cool and tasting identical to a cucumber, it is the perfect hot afternoon treat or dinner on a frigid night in Boston with Sarah, champagne and all. Take a moment, if you can, to rediscover your Grandmother's old oysters plates as well if you are so lucky as to have them with you.


pve design said...

Just when I thought I had everything, I am so in need of "Oyster Plates!"
lovely collection -

Patricia said...

Love your website...
How can I buy the book?