Church Keeps With Tradition For Oyster Dinner
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Church Keeps With Tradition For Oyster Dinner

Linda Stock sat in the kindergarten room next to the pastor’s wife as they directed Jake Canody in the best way to roll oysters in crumbs.

It was Canody’s first attempt, and they walked him through every step. But they knew he could handle it – the recipe’s been duplicated 100 times or more, as the United Methodist Women’s Group at Cranford prepare their now-biannual fried oyster and baked ham dinner for neighbors and parishioners, which took place this past Saturday.

The dinner started more than 100 years ago as a way for women of the parish to raise funds for mission projects here and abroad. Francis Shepherd, now 85 and still an active member of the church, has been rolling oysters since she was a small child and can’t remember missing a meal. Shepherd was joined this week by newcomer Eunice Beahm, who has only been helping out for the last 50 years or so.

SEVEN GALLONS of fresh-shucked oysters were brought up from Shady Grove Seafood in Colonial Beach. Dinner was set for four o’clock. The women sat down at the cleared tables in the kindergarten and rolled until all the oysters were covered in cracker crumbs.

Then Stock took over. The deep fryer had been filled with new oil and heated up. A half dozen at a time, the oysters were dropped into the oil until they turned a golden brown.

In another corner of the kitchen, Delores Kisendaffer was whipping up another batch of her hushpuppies. She picks up extra bags of Abbitt’s Sweet Onion Hushpuppy Mix every time she goes to the Carolinas.

“Abbitt’s doesn’t distribute to all the counties, so you have to look for it,” she said. This year Kissendaffer combined the Abbitt’s mix with Atchinson’s White Corn Hushpuppy Mix. The results of her experiment earned her only compliments.

Jane Gandee, Noelle Duckworth Christine Herbstreith, Donna Talak, Mary Ann Gibson and Jean Pound busied themselves in the kitchen, as they checked the hams and sweet potato casseroles, mixed up the deviled eggs and set out the salads before the guests arrived. The Cranford Youth Ministry helped serve the beverages and offered desserts to the diners. The desserts were donated by members of the parish.

Gordon Beach and his party arrived first. As Gordon was prominently first in line at 4 p.m., someone in the back of the line asked how he had happened to get to the front. Before Beach could respond the question was answered by another man waiting in line. Beach had never left the hall since the last oysters and ham dinner in March, he said.

<ro>Cranford’s Fried Oysters

<lst>The ladies at Cranford use gallon jars of pre-shucked oysters, purchased from Shady Grove Seafood. For the broth, they mix beaten egg, milk and some oyster juice, and let the oyster soak in it for a few minutes.

To make the oysters at home, use about one cup of milk, one large egg and about 1/4 cup of oyster juice – juice in which pre-shucked oysters are preserved, or from the shells if shucked at home. The broth will work for up to a dozen oysters.

While the oysters soak, puree crackers to produce about two cups of crumbs. At Cranford, they use Town House crackers. Remove the oysters from the broth, and roll in cracker crumbs.

Extreme caution should be used when deep-frying anything, including oysters. It’s best to use safflower or peanut oil to deep fry – some other oils have a low smoking point, and will burn much more readily.

For 12 oysters, fill a heavy frying pan or pot with about 1 1/2 inches of oil, and heat to 365 degrees F. Slide the oysters into the pan one at a time – do not drop them in. Six oysters can cook at one time.

Remove them when they have turned golden brown.