Alma Huntley’s Oysters and Other Seasonal Favorites

Get out the old index cards, because holidays are the time for old favorites. Corn chips are OK, but only if they go Lulu.

Photography by Tyler Darden / Styling by Billie Jo Darden / Table setting and serving pieces courtesy of Be-Dazzled, Richmond

Alma Huntley’s Oysters and Other Seasonal Favorites

You know they will be there. Buttered or unbuttered. Smithfield or Pagan. On biscuits or miniature dinner rolls. With few exceptions, it seems holiday entertaining in Virginia somehow involves a ham biscuit. The ubiquitous marriage of bread with what is arguably Virginia’s own meat is tradition for the holiday menu.

After all, tradition is a tangible, undeniable force in the holiday season. And nowhere is this more evident than in the kitchen. While many will happily dial their favorite caterers, there are traditional favorites for these annual gatherings of friends and family that must be incorporated into the menus of most.

Some are barely legible through the grease stains on tattered, flour-smudged index cards. However, favorite recipes for holiday entertaining don’t necessarily stretch back for generations. “I love to cook, so I’ll come up with a lot of foods that I want to eat and invite people over just so I can eat the food,” says hostess Lori Morris Whitten. During the holidays, she always incorporates ham biscuits in the menu, but her decisions about what foods to offer her guests are also based on things like finding a plate or bowl she really likes and then coming up with a recipe for something that she could serve in it. “I usually try to have something beefy — like the tenderloin — that is a great pick-up entrée, and then easy pick-up foods like cherry tomatoes with vodka,” says Whitten. One of her and her guests’ favorites is Lulu Paste. By all accounts, the unusually named concoction offers up a little slice of heaven when it’s riding on a corn chip. While there is more than one Lulu Paste recipe, the version she prepares was, until recently, a secret. “That is the best recipe of all for popular appeal,” she says.

At a time of year notoriously packed with opportunities for eating and drinking, a dish that stands out above the rest has got to be pretty darn good. Popularity definitely has its place on the sideboard. So a holiday favorite that has guests standing in line is one to hold on to.

Elizabeth Bramble Brown remembers as a child when members of St. James’s Episcopal Church along with friends, family and ‘anybody who wanted to come’ would line up around the corner of the church on West Franklin Street on a chilly Richmond night in December just to have some of her grandmother Alma Glazebrook Huntley’s oysters. Although served alongside Smithfield ham biscuits, the baked oysters were the stars of a church dinner that followed St. James’s annual Christmas bazaar.

“I remember being in the kitchen with my grandmother serving the oysters to all of those people. She would say, ‘If I die back here, just push me under the counter and keep serving!’” Mrs. Brown says. Since the recipe for St. James’s Oysters first appeared in the church’s cookbook, Manna From Heaven, Mrs. Huntley’s famous oysters have been a favorite for her granddaughter and many other Richmond families at the holidays. “They are truly out of this world,” she says.

Local waters also offer up the main ingredient for a favorite holiday party food of Will and Trudi Allcott and their guests at the couple’s annual Boxing Day party, a holiday traditionally celebrated by the English the day after Christmas. “We felt that the end of Christmas was such a let-down. It’s fun to have something to look forward to,” says Trudi Allcott. “And after Christmas, everybody is so much more relaxed.”

She prefers to offer simple food that is well prepared, and top on her list for the annual celebration is a Christmas crab dip from West Point. Her secret: extra crab. “I cook two batches,” Allcott says. She and her husband usually entertain about 60 people at their holiday party. “There is never any left.”

Simplicity is also the key for Amy Kaplan Lamb, who feels that holiday cocktail party food should include one signature, homemade hors d’oeuvre accompanied by smaller pick-up foods. “I prefer to focus on creating one thing that is a really nice accompaniment to the cocktails,” says Lamb.

Lamb discovered a recipe in California that she loves to prepare for guests during the holiday season. Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse offers a blend of rich, sophisticated flavors that looks as impressive as it sounds. It’s nothing at all like the humble ham biscuit. And yet there it is, still. Calling to you from the buffet table.

TRUDI ALLCOTT’S CHRISTMAS CRAB DIP

1 8-oz. cream cheese

1 tablespoon milk (whole or skim)

1 lb. of crabmeat (the best, freshest you can find)

1 tablespoon creamed style horseradish (or to taste)

2 tablespoon chopped onion (preferably sweet)

1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

cracker crumbs for topping (optional)

Simply combine the cream cheese and milk in mixer. Then fold in the crab, onion, horseradish, and salt by hand, taking care not to break up the crab too much. Fill chafing dish with crab. Top with cracker crumbs if you wish (although she never adds them). Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until brown on top. Serve in heated chafing dish with crackers or toast points. For a party of 60, she makes two of these, one for the first hour; another for the second hour or so of the party.

Adapted from the 1970 St John’s Episcopal Church Women’s Cookbook, West Point.

MARINATED BEEF TENDERLOIN

Mix in blender:

1 bottle chili sauce

1 cup brown sugar

Then add:

1 tablespoon fresh ginger

1 tablespoon fresh garlic

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

Add 1/4 cup olive oil while blending.

Soak tenderloin in marinade overnight. Cook to preference.

ST. JAMES’S OYSTERS

Preheat oven to 350˚. Drain oysters of all liquor. Place tightly together in single layer in greased glass baking dish (shallow Pyrex dish recommended). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover lightly with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Do not spare the butter. Make second layer of oysters, seasoned, and end with bread crumbs and butter on top. Bake for 45 minutes at 350˚ or until oysters are curled at the edges. Can be made in various quantities to suit needs.

LULU PASTE

Put the following in a blender and mix well:

1 jar Heinz chili sauce, 1 cup mayonnaise, juice of 1 lemon and dash of Worcestershire sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Then add 1 pound of grated cheddar cheese and 1 medium onion, chopped. Chill in refrigerator for one hour before serving.

NIMMY FARLEY’S SOURDOUGH HAM BISCUITS

If you have a sourdough starter: Start with 1 cup of starter and add 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 cup of water (it’s best to try to use less chlorinated water, which can be achieved by using water that’s left after boiling pasta, corn or potatoes). Let combination rest for 8 to 12 hours.

If you DON’T have starter: Using only wooden spoons, combine one cup of water and two cups of flour to one cup of beer in a glass or plastic bowl. Let rest for one to three days, depending upon atmospheric conditions and how much baking you do. When done you will smell a distinctive sourdough smell. Use immediately or refrigerate.

To make biscuits:

2 cups “proofed” sourdough starter (see above)

2 3/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar or molasses (sorghum molasses is best)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup of butter

1/2 cup of buttermilk

Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and then add buttermilk. Let dough rest for 30 minutes. Handle dough as little as possible. Press out to desired thickness and cut into biscuit rounds. Bake at 400˚ for 15 minutes. Slice and lightly butter biscuits when done and add layer of Pagan ham or Smithfield ham slices.

PARMESAN CRISPS WITH GOAT CHEESE MOUSSE

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

6 ounces goat cheese

3-5 tablespoons heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

To make crisps: Preheat oven to 350˚. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of grated Parmesan cheese onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper or surface of non-stick baking sheet. Using fingertips, spread the grated cheese into a 2-inch circle. Repeat process, making about a dozen rounds. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until golden. Remove using spatula and transfer onto paper towels (for flat crisps) or into clean egg carton cups to form small cups. Let cool. Can be stored in airtight container for up to two days. To make mousse: Combine goat cheese and heavy cream using a beater to fluff up the mixture. Spoon small amounts (it’s very rich) into cooled cheese crisps and serve.

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