Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Crunchy on the outside. Creamy on the Inside, God's Gift to you and me... 

Fall and winter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, mean the end of hurricane season, football -- and oysters.

Santa as an Oyster Shell from

 Sure, sure. The old "only eat oysters in a month containing the letter 'R'" is a hoary old rule -- and about as useful on the Gulf Coast as fall time grammar school displays of falling leaves and shocks of corn. You can't watch the leaves change on the Gulf Coast, they don't. September is just as hot as August, (with the insult of having to watch Yankees on television wear their sweaters and jackets.)

No one who has lived in a hot and humid climate fails to enjoy the first cool front -- or the first good oyster.

Kenny Stabler, a native of 
my hometown, at about the time
I was watching the Saints get
the hell beaten out of them
every Sunday afternoon.
Winter, football and oysters mean New Orleans.

This was a place, long, long ago, where I stood in the climate controlled confines of a building on fall afternoons. There, as a young intern for United Press International, I would watch football. I stood on the sidelines of the newly constructed Louisiana Superdome. There were big bolsters to keep the football players from crashing into those of us on the sidelines.

When you are that close, you can hear the players crash into each other. Man! They really crashed too!

In those days, the Minnesota Vikings came down regularly and humiliated the New Orleans Saints.

It was bad. Real bad. Even a non-football fan like me knew how bad it was. 

Twenty-nine years later I flew over the dome in the days following Hurricane Katrina. I only thought watching the "'Aints" getting the hell beaten out of them was bad. The city looked like a movie set. A column of smoke rose from a wharf, which burned brightly against the water and dirty goo that covered much of the city. My flight path, ferrying United States Coast Guard pilots and other personnel from Alexandria to Belle Chasse Louisiana took me over the eastern half of the city. I spied the house where I had visited the family of my son's then girlfriend -- a charming and sweet doctor's daughter who lived near the Lakefront. Her house was  flooded up to the eaves.

Like I said, it was bad.

Worse were the comments and ensuing arguments about how stupid everyone in New Orleans must be to have stayed in the city in the face of a hurricane. Also bad were the gross and often repeated misunderstandings of how the city flooded. It was not the hurricane that flooded New Orleans, it was the failure of  a levee system.

Fast forward a few years. The traffic lights are replaced. The temporary four-way stops in the city are removed. The streetcars roll again. The "'Aints" are a memory. Drew Brees and company win the Superbowl. It was a magical time.

I watched as much of the game as I can stand. I don't like suspense. I can't watch Hurricane Katrina documentaries without "tuning up" and I have an emotional attachment to New Orleans in general and The Saints in particular that is completely irrational.

Did Drew, the Saints and their families bet on New Orleans just to help the coast overcome Katrina? Probably not. But watching them win that football game -- and to see the New Orleans Saints proclaimed National Champions -- was an event that choked up even a non-fan like me.

Then came Deepwater Horizon. Again, we were chided by the rest of the nation for not holding up well enough to the latest disaster to hit the Gulf Coast. Oysters were -- and are -- awfully scarce. Even those who know better fret about the "safety" of seafood. (Interesting from a nation that gobbles down chemically altered food with ingredient names that sound like the index to a chemistry textbook.)

But......what about the oysters?
Sarah Coleman, with her Christmas
Oyster knife after proving she can
shuck as fast as her brother 

Last week the Gods Of British Petroleum proclaimed the oil spill over. Watch their commercials with all the happy Cajun Folk. Life is good again. 'Cause they said so!

I don't know about life. I do know about Oysters. I opened and ate some of the best oysters I have every put in my mouth over the Christmas holiday.

Katrina is a distant memory! BP proclaims victory! Oysters are good again!

Not so fast. I hope we never forget Katrina. BP is working to stay ahead of the lawsuit that cranks up in a few weeks in New Orleans -- and the oyster industry will struggle for years to overcome the stigma attached to the oil spill.

But for now, let's eat!

I had the pleasure of cooking with a great bunch of folks from Fairhope, Alabama. We got together and spent four Saturdays cooking and eating gulf seafood. Opening and eating oysters was a highlight. Take a look at the tab marked "Oysters" and watch the movie showing a pretty good shucker opening an oyster. It takes practice, and care, to do this properly. However, the reward is so great that learning the skill is really worthwhile. When my Fairhope friends first attempted to open a few oysters, they had a little trouble. Remember, that oyster wants to stay closed!

Noted food authority Hagar The Horrible opined that oysters are a perfect snack. "Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside," he said. Unless you are a viking with a jaw as tough as Hagar's, you might want to open the oyster before you eat it. Here the steps, and some tips:

Sarah wielding the Dexter Russel New Haven 
pattern knife. Glove by Ace Hardware and
 the People Republic of China.
1) Buy oysters that are selected for opening and serving on the half shell. This is the most important step. Oyster producers will select shells that contain a single oyster, rather than a clump of oysters. These are much easier to open than oysters that are clumped together and oddly shaped. You can get a 22 lb box that has about for or five dozen oysters. The number of oysters will vary because of the size and shape of the oysters.

2) Scrub the oysters before you open them. They will have a little mud and dirt on them right out of the box. Scrub them clean, and let them sit for a while before you open them. Handling oysters a lot makes them harder to open.

3) Keep them on ice and cold, but not in water. Leave the drain plug on the ice chest open. Let the ice drain out. You can keep box and all in the refrigerator. Put some dishtowels under the box to catch the seepage.

4) Get a good oyster knife. The one pictured on the right is a Dexter Russell New Haven Pattern, with a little curve on the tip. It is not what the pros favor, but it is awfully easy to use. The knife with the blue handle is similar to a gulf coast pattern knife, but with an edge on one tip, and all the way down the other side. There are lots of kinds of knives. Ask the fish guy (or gal) what they use to open oysters. Don't buy that cheap oyster knife you see in the grocery store. It will hurt you! For a nice article on various kind of knives (including the Carvel Hall which we used to sell at Coleman Marine) see

5) Don't open oysters while drinking beer, whiskey, moonshine, vodka or gin. Don't open them in the dark or while you are trying to tell jokes or make time with that cute brunette with the leather glove on her left hand. Take your time and concentrate on what you are doing. Sticking an oyster knife in your hand is guaranteed to give you an infection you'll never forget, so watch what you're doing.

6) Wipe the knife clean -- repeatedly. Don't stick a dirty nasty knife into the oyster meat. You'll carry grit onto the oyster.

7) As always, stay organized. Shuck onto a sheet pan or other tray. If you're not serving and eating immedately, bed the oysters in cracked ice.

8) Enjoy and don't worry. Oysters are good, and good for you!

My Sister, Claudia Coleman, doing what
her daddy taught her. Enjoying an oyster
with a bottle of  Tabasco. A a more varied
bottlescape appears in the background. 
My sister, who knows a thing or two about eating oysters, got the worst case of food posioning of her life from eating oysters which were harvested illegally. That was on the east coast back in the late 1970s.

She got over it and learned the lesson I'll leave with you. Buy your oysters from a reputable source. Handle them properly.

See the tab marked "Oysters" to learn how this product is inspected, tracked and monitored.

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