Old-fashioned Oyster Stew

My Dad LOVED soup. I think he could have eaten soup every day of the week. He insisted it be served steaming hot and was notorious for sending back any bowl of soup in a restaurant that wasn’t served at that temperature. He ate all kinds of soup, but his favorites were those that were simple and filling.

Dad pulled away from the house in the still-dark early morning on his way to pick up a load of coal in his tractor-trailer at a local breaker then head off to Philadelphia or New York City to deliver it. As a treat, my Mom would occasionally take me for a “girl’s day out” (yes, I skipped school that day and survived to go on to graduate years later with honors…) and we would explore “the city” — Pottsville, PA (the county seat of Schuylkill County). For a kid from a very small town, this was a huge deal!

Mom and I headed out to spend the day window shopping the busy 1960’s main streets of Pottsville. Mom always kept a close watch on the time, making sure we would be home early enough to greet Dad as he arrived home. Because we usually had a pretty substantial lunch during our trip, Mom often planned a simple and quick supper for that evening. She sometimes stopped by the local seafood store on our way home and picked up some fresh oysters in order to make one of Pop’s absolute favorites – oyster stew.

The Amish, Mennonites and Pennsylvania Dutch have a long history of using oysters in their cuisine.

Scalloped oysters, oyster pie, oyster filling (stuffing), fried; the Amish, Mennonites and Pennsylvania Dutch have a long history of using oysters in their cuisine and still enjoy eating oysters today despite the high prices now being charged for them.

Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when oysters were plentiful and very reasonably priced, they were sold as snacks on the streets of Philadelphia. Oysters could be purchased for the home from a woman called an oyster wench or from a peddler that traveled from farm to farm.

I watched my Mom make this oyster stew many times and it is not the “recipe” that makes it special but rather its glorious simplicity.  This recipe is no fuss, one pot yummy-ness for oyster fans. Be careful not to overcook the oysters: they turn rubbery. Use fresh oysters – the fresher, the better, for this dish.  This was always served with oyster crackers in our house – Dad would toss a layer of the crackers in the bowl then ladle the stew over them. He never failed to add an additional pat of butter to the top.

Cooking Oysters for This Stew

The oysters are done when the meat becomes opaque. The edges may curl up a bit, but if the meat starts to shrink, you are overcooking them.

About oysters

Oysters are a “bi-valve” and available year ’round, but a long-standing cook’s myth is that they should only be eaten during months of the year that contain an “R”…and avoided May, June, July, and August (in the northern hemisphere). However, oysters are at their best during the colder months; they are generally thin in the summer because they devote their energy to reproducing.

When buying oysters, avoid any that are open or that don’t close right away after you lightly tap them on a hard surface because this is a sign the oyster is dead. Live oysters should have a fragrance like the sea water they were harvested from..

Old-fashioned Oyster Stew

Recipe by A Coalcracker in the KitchenCourse: SoupsCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy

Simple and satisfying, this recipe is no fuss, one pot yummy-ness for oyster fans.


  • 2 pints fresh oysters packed in their liquor (or more if desired)

  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus more for garnish

  • 5 cups whole milk

  • 1 cup cream

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • OPTIONAL Tabasco to taste

  • Parsley for garnish, if desired


  • Drain oysters through fine strainer to remove any sand, reserve liquor, set oysters aside.
  • Add milk, cream, oyster liquor, and butter to large saucepan Bring to simmer over medium heat. Do not allow to boil as milk will curdle.
  • Add oysters and continue on simmer until outer edges of oysters curl.
  • Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and add salt and black pepper, to taste.
  • Serve with an additional pat of butter on top.
  • May be sprinkled with Tabasco sauce to taste and/or sprinkled chopped fresh parsley.
  • Serve in warmed soup bowls with oyster crackers or saltines.


  • The most important factors in preparing Oyster Stew are do not boil the milk and do not overcook the oysters. Overcooking oysters causes them to become tough.