13.010 Oyster Stew

Cycle 13 – Item 10

15 (Sat) January 2022

Oyster Stew


by me

at home

-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-


Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (73-74) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)

While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, I am attempting to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book.  The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.

Amos Fortune, Free Man (1951) by Elizabeth Yates.  The book is about Amos Fortune, born an African prince, who is enslaved and taken to America, where he eventually buys his own freedom while building his own business as a tanner.

I found the book appalling.  Though based on a true story, and I truly hope that Amos died a happy man, the book seems to suggest that, beyond his own hard work and sensibilities, the man’s good fortunes should be credited to the good graces of the good white folks that supported him along the way.  It’s a perfect blend of racial reconciliation and white saviorism fantasies.  As the life of Amos Fortune shows, slavery wasn’t so bad for everyone.

I will not include a quote from the book.

The Slave Dancer (1974) by Paula Fox.  Set in 1840, the book is about 13-year-old Jessie Bollier, a white boy who is kidnapped off the streets of New Orleans and taken aboard a slave ship, where is he forced to play a fife to encourage movement when the chained slaves are periodically brought on deck for exercise during the cross-Atlantic journey from Africa back to the States.

I found the book less appalling than Amos Fortune, but still shameful.  On one hand, I could appreciate the horrific depictions of the slave trade, or at least the transport part of it, facts that weren’t widely known/discussed in the 1970s, certainly not in children’s literature.  However, by telling the story through the perspective of a white narrator, the slaves remain distant, vague, secondary.   The central conflict is Jessie’s emotional trauma in witnessing the atrocities – poor little white boy, how scared he must’ve been! – rather than the actual suffering of slaves themselves.  Most ludicrously, when the slave ship later sinks in a massive storm off the coast of America, Jessie survives, along with a slave boy around the same age, and they wash ashore, and become friends.

I will not include a quote from the book.

Fortunately, The Slave Dancer was the last Newbery Medal winner in the tradition of white authors writing stories about brown people.  It was followed in 1975 by MC Higgins the Great, the first Newbery Medal to recognize a writer of color.

For the Newbery M&M project, I declined to look for inspiration in either book, which I felt would’ve perpetuated the false narratives even further, and instead opted for a genuine African dish: Gambian Oyster Stew.  Originally from a longer segment on CNN Inside Africa, the dish is shown occasionally as a 1-minute filler clip during commercial breaks (see Gambian Oyster Stew) – in my decades of watching CNN, I can’t recall seeing any other dish highlighted in this manner.  The recipe is presented by Ida Cham-Njai, a Gambian woman, who explains that Gambians eat oysters “for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner.”

I am well aware that Africa, and African people, African culture, and African history is not a monolith, that one part can’t simply be substituted for another.

That said, I apologize if making the recipe and presenting the dish in a post featuring books about slaves seems hypocritical.

The oysters are initially deep-fried, then sautéed with the other ingredients, served over rice, “because the staple food is rice.”

Unfortunately, the recipe doesn’t provide an exact measurement for tomato paste (even though it seems to be a critical point), so I improvised about 3 tablespoons, which seemed necessary to produce the rich red color seen on TV.

Eh.  Too much tomato paste, making it overly sweet and goopy.

I forgot to add fresh vegetables on the side.

Anyway, I’d been looking forward to trying the dish for years.  This was a great way to do it.


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