Take brains from the heads of hogs, as whole as possible; remove the skin and throw them into salt and water; let them remain in this two hours; then boil them, until done, in sweet milk; take them up in an earthen bowl or dish, and pour over weak vinegar to cover them; prepare sufficient vinegar to cover them, by adding it to cloves, allspice, and cinnamon to taste; season well with pepper, using part red pepper; scald this vinegar; pour off the weak vinegar, cover with the spiced vinegar. Eat cold, or stewed with crackers as oysters.
Mrs Hill’s Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book, 1867.
I wondered what else has been used in the past to imitate the oyster. A more obvious, and conveniently vegetarian option would be to use the ‘oyster plant’ or salsify – so called because of its supposed flavour similarity with the shellfish.
Scrape salsify roots and throw each one as you scrape it into cold water. Cover with boiling water and boil gently three-quarters of an hour. They will then be tender. Mash the roots and put through a colander. Then season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in beaten eggs, allowing one egg to two heaping tablespoons of salsify pulp. Have on a griddle or in a saucepan hot fat. Drop the mixture from a spoon and fry. When one side is brown, turn the salsify cake and brown on the other side. Serve hot.
The Home Cook Book – a collection of practical receipts by expert cooks, 1905.
A further degree of separation from the real thing is achieved by using the parsnip, which presumably is itself standing in for the salsify.
Use three grated parsnips, three eggs, one teaspoonful of salt, one teacupful of sweet cream, butter half the size of an egg, three tablespoonfuls of flour. Fry as pancakes.
Vaughan’s Vegetable Cook Book; how to cook and use rarer vegetables and herbs, fourth edition, 1919.
If one is going to imitate something rare, one might as well use something which is common, which in one large part of the world means – corn. Corn fresh from the cob, corn canned, and corn ground into hominy can all be used to mimic the oyster – or at the very least the oysters generally blobby shape.
Grate the corn, while green and tender, with a coarse grater, into a deep dish. To two ears of corn, allow one egg; beat the whites and yolks separately, and add them to the corn, with one tablespoon of wheat flour and one of butter, a teaspoonful of salt and pepper to taste. Drip spoonfuls of this batter into a frying pan with hot butter and lard mixed, and fry a light brown on both sides.
In taste they have a singular resemblance to fried oysters. The corn must be young.
White House Cook Book, by Fanny Lemira Gillet (1889)
But would anyone really be fooled by fried green tomatoes as a stand-in?
Wash green tomatoes, remove stems, and cut in half inch slices or thicker. Dip in barley four to coat thoroughly. Sauté in hot frying pans containing cooking oil or salt pork drippings to the depth of one-fourth inch. They should be well browned on both sides, but not burned. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper while cooking. Arrange on hot platters; serve with Brown Sauce. To make the latter, add sufficient drippings to the pan in which the tomatoes were cooked, stir in flour, cook until brown; add hot stock, and when thickened and well cooked, strain and pour over tomatoes, or serve in separate dishes.
More Recipes for Fifty, by Frances Lowe Smith, 1918
Here is my recipe pick for mock oysters, on account of its more determined attempt to reproduce the fishy flavour and soft texture of the real oyster.
Wash and scrub well a dozen deep oyster shells. Mince the flesh of a Dutch herring very finely, divide it into twelve parts and put one part into each of the shells. Place upon it a iece of boiled sweetbread, the size and shape of a small oyster, which has been dipped in egg and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle breadcrumbs thickly over the mock oyster, lay a piece of butter on each, and bake them in the oven, or put them before the fire for a few minutes until they are lightly browned. Serve very hot.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, London, c1870s
Quotation for the Day.
Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. The stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.
Hector Bolitho, The Glorious Oyster (1960)
Hector Bolitho, The Glorious Oyster (1960)