" Christmas Eve was spent at my Grandparent's country home in rural Minnesota when I was a child. I can still feel the welcome embrace of the rush of warm, sweet smelling air that greeted us when we walked in the door of their home, and the fantastic sense of anticipation that filled me at the prospect of playing with my cousins and enjoying the festivities. This was an evening of tradition, one of which, like families around the world, involved the meal.
In our part of the country, this meal was referred to as "supper", and at Grandpa and Grandma's house, Christmas Eve supper began with one special dish each year. While the aroma of this dish was spectacular, it was one that I would not taste for many years. Because not unlike the opportunity to be seated at the expansive dining table, the annual rite of enjoying a bowl of Oyster Stew before we had supper was reserved for the adults of the family.
When the Oyster Stew was served, we cousins automatically knew we needed to tone down our fevered play and walk quietly past the table. My Uncle Richard was seated near the end of the table, and he needed only reach out and touch your sleeve with his big hands to gently remind you least you forget and try to run from room to room in our youthful Christmas play.
With a sense of reverence that I couldn't appreciate until years later, I can still remember my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles seated around the table while the low, wide bowls of Oyster Stew stood steaming before them. The thick fresh milk was speckled with pepper and creamy dairy butter and only the hint of oysters could be seen through the surface. Prayer, like the tradition of the Oyster Stew, was an important element of this gathering. I remember my grandpa's hands, thick and callused from years of honest farm labor, grasped in thanks for the year just past and the blessings that surrounded him.
The savoring of the Oyster Stew was a time I recall Grandma pausing from her cooking, and folding her hands in grace with the others. She was a phenomenal cook, and this would be one of the many delectable dishes that would cross the table throughout the evening.
Unfortunately, my Grandpa had passed away as had one of my uncles before I had the chance to taste Oyster Stew. Perhaps the fullness of flavor that it brought to those that enjoyed it Christmas Eve was enhanced more through the fellowship and love that surrounded the table those many years ago, than of the actual soup its self. Both the aroma and flavor were unique, and like those Christmas Eve's of my childhood, are captured in the envelope of time in my Grandma's special recipe.
So while I don't have the recipe for Oyster Stew to share, an Alaskan alternative that offers your family a new tradition to add to your Christmas Eve meal is the Halibut Chowder recipe below.
2 lbs. halibut, cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup (1 stick) butter
Clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. Cayenne pepper
Saute' halibut in melted butter, season with garlic and cayenne pepper until lightly browned. Remove from pan.
In same skillet, add 1 Cup shredded carrots, 1 Cup diced celery and 1/ 2 cup minced onion. Saute until carrots are crisp tender and onion is transparent or lightly browned.
Transfer vegetables to crock pot or large stock pot.
In a blender, combine 3 cups milk with 2 ounces of Cream Cheese until smooth. Add to vegetables in pot.
Stir in 2 cans of Creamy Potato soup with garlic (using the larger sized cans), 2 cans of Cream of Mushroom soup and one size of regular Corn, drained.
Slowly heat together, stirring often if using stock pot. Add halibut and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes before serving. Season to taste with additional cayenne pepper and salt as needed. Or skip the additional salt and serve with Oyster Crackers!
From the kitchen of: Evy Gebhardt, Kasilof
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