We’re celebrating the release of Jenna Blum’s novel The Lost Family (HarperCollins, 6/5/18) with bloggers across the country who are creating novel-inspired recipes inspired for a virtual dinner feast — #TheLostFamilySupperClub — hosted by BookClubCookBook.com. We’re bringing two historic oyster appetizers to get the party started.
About the book: The New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum creates a vivid portrait of marriage, family, and the haunting grief of World War II in The Lost Family, in an emotionally charged, beautifully rendered story that spans a generation, from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The Lost Family first transports us to 1965 Manhattan, where patrons flock to Masha’s, the restaurant owned by Peter Rashkin, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor. Peter was training as a chef in Berlin when the Nazis came to power; he now devotes himself to his successful Upper East side restaurant named after his wife who disappeared along with his daughters during a Nazi round up. When the novel begins, he meets June Bouquet, a young New York model, with whom he falls in love.
On arriving in Manhattan, Peter was employed as a busboy at the legendary Grand Central Oyster Bar; he was later dismissed when his exposed forearm tattoo from Auchwitz disturbed the clientele. When he tells June that he worked at the restaurant as they pass through Grand Central Station, she shudders with disgust at the thought of eating oysters, although she’s never tasted them. But, to Peter, June “tasted like a an oyster fresh from the Sound, Blue points or Peconic Pearls.”
Blum’s references to oysters and the Grand Central Oyster bar in the novel made us nostalgic for Mad Men oyster recipes. New York waters produced some of the largest, sweetest oysters in the world before over consumption and pollution took their toll, and the oyster, according to William Grimes, author of Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York (2009), was to New York what the lobster was to Boston and the crab to Baltimore. Oyster stands, oyster saloons (associated with vice and prostitution) and oyster cellars, literally basement establishments, dotted the city. “Today,” writes Grimes, “only one restaurant in New York offers an approximation of the old oyster cellars: the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal.”
Since 1913, the Oyster Bar, located a level down from the street in Grand Central Station, has attracted passengers and patrons seeking fresh oysters and seafood. The Oyster Bar’s series of soaring, scallop-shaped ceilings are today lined with light bulbs, giving the impression of sitting inside an enormous, illuminated oyster shell. Oyster Stew and Oysters Rockefeller are two iconic mid century Oyster Bar menu items.
Nick Petters, the Oyster Bar’s chef in 1965, when The Lost Family opens, claimed he had made “4 million stews and each stew is 7 oysters,” wrote Nan Ickeringgill in the New York Times. The signature oyster stew “made in steam cups before the customer’s eyes, is almost as much of an institution at the Oyster Bar as Nick himself,” she added.
Author Tom Wolfe wrote of the renowned stew, “His Majesty the oyster is indigenous to this city and New Yorkers insist there are no oysters better than the fat firm Long Island kind and no dish to beat oyster stew as it is made at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station,” in New York Herald Tribune Presents: New York, New York (1964).
And Julia Child shared her version of the 1937 soup recipe along with recollections of the Oyster Bar in From Julia Child’s Kitchen (Knopf, 1882). “You sat up on a stool and peered over the counter into a series of steam bowls, where they made their famous oyster stew.”
Our 1965 version of the recipe below is from Oyster Bar Chef Nick Petters, as told to the New York Times.
Oysters Rockefeller was invented in one of New Orleans’ most famous restaurants, Antoine’s, based on a dish originally made with snails. In 1899, Antoine’s began serving topping the oysters with greens, butter sauce, and breadcrumbs before baking or broiling Gulf oysters. Legend has it that a satisfied customer declared the dish, “as rich as Rockefeller,” In truth, Jules Alciatore, the founder’s son then Antoine’s owner, wanted a name that would suggest the dish was “the richest in the world,” and Oysters Rockefeller was born. The Antoine’s recipe, still popular in New Orleans is a secret, (we sampled a similar dish recently at New Orleans’ Pascale’s Manale), but has a topping of parsley, breadcrumbs, herbsaint, and celery. The Oyster Bar recipe has changed their 1960s version in which oysters were covered with wilted spinach, breadcrumbs, shallots, butter and Pernod (see our recipe from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook). If you visit the Oyster Bar today, the oysters are served a bed of creamed spinach and glazed with hollandaise sauce.
The Lost Family is a stunning novel and we savored every page of this moving exploration of Peter’s life and family. The book is also rich with descriptions of foods and drink of the 1960s1980s, and even includes menus from the fictional Masha’s. The menus “are a fusion of 1965-era favorites and German-Jewish comfort food, Peter and Masha’s favorite childhood dishes: Masha’s “Little Clouds” (cream puffs with chocolate fondue), Brisket Wellington, Chicken Kiev, and my favorite, Masha Torte—an inside-out German chocolate cake with cherries flambé,” Blum told us. “I relied on my German friend Christiane’s mother’s recipes, my childhood memories of my Jewish grandmother’s dishes, the Mad Men Cookbook and similar cookbooks from the 1960s, and ingredients from my garden.”
We enjoyed reconnecting with Mad Men party bloggers — including Sidewalk Shoes, Amy’s Cooking Adventures, Dinner is Served 1972, MidCentury Menu, Culinary Adventures with Cam, Eliot’s Eats, The Red Head Baker — and meeting new ones at The Lost Family Supper Club. On June 3, all party bloggers recipes for novel-inspired dishes and drinks will be posted The Lost Family Supper Club Party Page, and you can follow on social media with the #TheLostFamilySupperClub hashtag.
A recipe for Oyster Stew from the Grand Central Oyster Bar circa 1965 for #The LostFamilySupperClub, a virtual dinner party to celebrate the launch of Jenna Blum's novel, THE LOST FAMILY.
Recipe: (New York Times , “Oyster Farmers Check Crop For Harvest on the Half Shell” , September 8, 1965)
- 2 teaspoons butter, divided
- Dash of paprika
- Dash of celery salt
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- 7 fresh oysters
- 1/2 cup clam both
- 1 cup milk
- Place 1 teaspoon of butter, paprika, celery salt & Worcestershire sauce in a deep saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- Add oysters and clam both. Simmer until oyster edges curl. Add milk and bring the a boil.
- Pour the stew into a soup bowl and top with paprika and teaspoon of butter.