Appalachia Appalachian Food Christmas

Oyster Stew – A Christmas Eve Tradition

James and Lura PressleyJames and Lura Pressley

James and Lura were The Deer Hunter’s grandparents. James passed away when The Deer Hunter was just a boy and Lura passed away when I was pregnant with the girls. Even though they’ve been gone for many years, as with all of the deceased, pieces of them still exist here on this earth. Of course there’s the literal pieces like the permanent crook of The Deer Hunter’s pinky finger-several descendants inherited it or a variation of it from James and then there’s the feisty spirit of Lura which is evident in several of her offspring, including our very own Chitter.

Other pieces of James and Lura exist in the traditions they passed on to their children and grandchildren. We observe one of those treasured traditions every Christmas Eve-a bit pot of oyster stew.

Papaw Tony said he couldn’t remember a Christmas Eve that James didn’t serve up oyster stew. As I googled around I discovered a Christmas Eve bowl of oyster stew is pretty common. I found various reasons behind the tradition-you can read about them here and here.

I questioned Papaw Tony about where James might have gotten the oysters way back in the day. He said he wasn’t sure but thought they might have come from a connection the family had with Smathers Grocery in Canton.

I put the question to Papaw Tony’s only remaining sister the other night. I figured since she was well up the chain of older children from Papaw that she might remember. She said “Daddy went and got them out at the coast in the early days. Several of them went and they’d bring back big barrels of oysters. I’ve shucked many a oyster in my younger days. As the years went by you know you were able to get them closer to home then. Momma and Daddy always had oyster stew, it wouldn’t have been Christmas without it.”

Later today The Deer Hunter will make his oyster stew using the same simple recipe James and Lura did. He’ll warm a big pot of milk, add butter for richness, and then add the oysters and lots of black pepper. He’ll wait patiently as the stew heats slowly until the oysters are cooked through.

The Deer Hunter has added his own twist to the traditional oyster stew. As soon as its done he carries a quart jar full down the hill for Pap to enjoy.

The girls don’t care for oyster stew like we do, but who knows maybe they’ll get a taste for it and continue the tradition started by their great grandparents James and Lura.



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  • Reply
    Brian Johnson
    December 26, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    Over the years we at times have purchased a gallon of shucked oysters (I reserve them in advance from a market on Shem Creek but they usually come from VA) to make big pots of stew for Christmas Eve. I melt the butter, add oysters (with liquid!), and when the butter has melted again start adding half and half. Up to a 1:2 ratio. Heat slowly until steaming. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne and Worchester sauce. Even in my late mother’s notes there were no amounts for the seasoning. Leftover stew can be frozen.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Would you mind sharing Matt’s recipe for oyster stew?

    • Reply
      December 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

      Sara-The stew he makes is very basic: milk, butter, oysters, and lots of pepper simmered slowly until the oysters are done. I need to do a post about it and will try too 🙂

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    September 16, 2021 at 9:43 am

    You know it’s approaching Christmas in Appalachia when the small local stores begin to advertise that they’re taking orders for oysters and salt fish!

  • Reply
    Yvette H Ridenour
    May 19, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    My mom’s family was from Kentucky and my dad’s from West Virginia, and I can never remember a Christmas Eve without oyster stew. Once I got married, I started making it every Christmas Eve, and now it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve for my family without oyster stew. My dad used to get the oysters and shuck them himself, so he and I–the only ones who liked the oysters raw–would eat a bunch of the raw oysters while he was shucking them for my mom to make the stew. Good memories for me, and now my own kids have good memories of oyster stew on Christmas Eve. 🙂

  • Reply
    Janis Zeglen
    May 18, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Our Christmas Eve tradition involved oyster stew with crumbled soda crackers and catsup so that the stew became pink. I can still taste it. Unfortunately I have developed an allergy to shell fish so no more stew for me! Thanks for evoking that memory for me!

  • Reply
    Helen Gardner
    December 26, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    I love oyster stew. Mom used to make it but I don’t remember it as a Christmas tradition. She made her’s as simply as the deer hunter’s recipe. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    December 24, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    My dad’s family from Western NC always had Oyster Stew at Christmas.This year will be the first time in 62 years I won’t be having any. I know Grandma Wilson’s recipe by heart.Debbie

  • Reply
    Lynda Randolph
    December 25, 2015 at 12:48 am

    I remember my parents talking about cooking oyster stew as a family tradition and also when having a social gathering they would have oyster stew. My parents are from South Carolina (Dixianna and St. Matthews, SC) .
    Merry Christmas!

  • Reply
    Paulette Tonielli
    December 24, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Tipper, my family always had oyster stew on Christmas Eve too – I’d love to know where that tradition originated. When I married, we couldn’t afford oysters, so I started making potato soup on Christmas Eve. I still do – we had it tonight!

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    December 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Tipper, oysters have always been a part of Christmas at my family home in south Georgia. My mother loved oysters and made stew often, but she cooked her cornbread dressing with oysters in it. All the family raved about it. But I didn’t like oysters in my dressing so she made a pan without just for me.
    When my brother Hal moved down to Spring Creek, FL he would bring a bunch of oysters up for the annual Christmas party. All who enjoyed them would stand around outside and shuck and eat them.
    Our family likes seafood, but oysters were part of Christmas when my mother was alive.
    I’d probably eat the oyster dressing now that my tastes are a bit more sophisticated. I can remember the smell of that oyster stew cooking and wish I had some. Merry Christmas to you and all your family. May the new year bring you good health and much happiness.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    December 24, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    I work at a grocery store and was thinking as I read this, I sold a great bit of Italian food makings today – sauce, pasta, ground beef, even a frozen pizza or two, but one old fella did buy 4 big jars of oysters, and now I wonder if he was making CHRISTmas Eve stew with them.
    Merry CHRISTmas ya’all.
    Prayers for a safe and blessed one.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    December 24, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I have never had oyster stew even though I lived in Florida most of my life. I like fried oyster though. Enjoyed your story and photo. I hope the whole Blind Pig Gang has a very Merry Christmas and safe Happy New Year! Enjoy your oyster stew!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    My son’s pinky fingers have a marked crook. I grew up near a family of three girls and two boys. All the girls had webbed toes on one foot. Their second and third toes were grown together to the first joint. They called it a beauty mark. The middle girl also had one blue eye and one green one. The boys might have had the webbed toes too but I never was inclined to look at their feet.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 24, 2015 at 11:32 am

    I ain’t never had an oyster in my life, don’t even know what they taste like. But I have seen folks open the shells and drop the little fellers out into boiling water. Reminds me of my father-in-law telling stories of when he was on the Great Lakes many years ago. Merry Christmas to everyone…Ken

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Oysters are well loved by many, and happens to be my personal favorite seafood. I gave them up for several years due to the claim of raising cholesterol levels. Newer diets encourage the foods that were once considered a no no, and I have learned to add foods once banned with great results in my lab work. Oyster dressing was once a tradition when I lived in New Orleans, and it was a fabulous dish (if you like oysters).
    This post has reminded my how great it is to sometimes deviate from the usual holiday fare of cornbread dressing etc. I look forward to all the oyster dishes I once loved so much. We used half and half in oyster stew with the little oyster crackers. Those girls may learn to like the stew, as we were always taught your taste changes every seven years. Thanks for this interesting post.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    December 24, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Tipper, I read your blog each day but seldom comment. I just want to take the opportunity to wish you and your family and the many readers of the Blind Pig a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    December 24, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I love traditions like this. Several years ago my wife and I started our own tradition of making lobster bisque and having some close friends over to share the meal and good fellowship.
    From the Banks family to you and your family and all the BP readers, may the spirit of Christmas fill your homes and hearts with the joy of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 24, 2015 at 9:28 am

    I would never have guessed oyster stew would be a tradition in western North Carolina ! I suspect there must be a story behind that somewhere. But anyway it sure fits in the category of comfort foods like chili, vegetable soup, pinto beans or clam chowder.
    For a long time I have wanted an excuse to drive down to Shem Creek at Charlestown, SC and get 60 to 75 pounds of shrimp to bring back for Low Country Boil. Of course it would be with the heads and my wife at least doesn’t like to see their little eyes !
    By the way, Mike’s seafood restaurant in Blairsville, GA also sells seafood. And in Ellijay is the Jolly Roger seafood market. Both have been around for about 20 years.
    Hope it turns out to be the best batch ever.

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Merry Christmas to all! Oysters are not on my list of yummies during the holiday season, so I’ll pass!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 9:06 am

    It was also a tradition in my family to have oysters at Christmas. However, it was in the form of a casserole instead of a stew, which I like more than a stew. It was my favorite Christmas meal side dish. Other Christmas standards were ambrosia salad and fruit cake. I found the light fruit cake to be far superior to the dark. Santa Claus seemed to like the fruit cake also because we always left him a slice and a 6 oz bottle of Coca Cola , and I found they had been consumed when I got up Christmas morning….Thanks for this year’s posts; they are always interesting, nostalgic, and/or educational. Merry Christmas to the visually challenged swine and acorns gang.

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    December 24, 2015 at 8:59 am

    I too will be making Oyster Stew like I learned over 60 years ago helping my Grandma Wilson.Only mom and I will eat it the rest don’t seem to care for it. To me it’s just part of my past that I have to do. I’ll be thinking of the ones that have gone on that we would all shared the Stew,the love,the family history that came from Western NC.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 24, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Wish I enjoyed oysters! I just can’t bring myself to even try one. Christmas Eve Gift!!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 24, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Food traditions are a special part of Christmas–and of fond remembrances. My daughter has a Christmas Eve tradition of a traditional Cuban Christmas Eve, honoring the wishes of her husband and their family who were refugees from Cuba years ago, and now happily settled into Mid-Georgia Southern life. But the traditional Cuban Christmas Eve dinner will be served to family and guests tonight–a “crowd” come home: Roast pork, black beans over rice, yucca in lemon/onion sauce, and flan for dessert! We all have come to enjoy this Cuban Christmas Eve feast!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 24, 2015 at 7:15 am

    I look forward to a bowl of oyster stew this evening. I’m always up for carrying on traditions, especially the ones that include good food and oyster stew certainly qualifies as good food!

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