It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.
For a girl who spends her Thanksgiving at a pig pickin’ in Nesmith, South Carolina, it’s odd that when I think of our barbecue-centric celebration, I think of my grandmother’s oyster pie. But I do.
It’s an unassuming little guy, that oyster pie. It rides to Thanksgiving in my grandmother’s Cadillac, carefully tucked into a square, white ceramic casserole dish, the kind that has wings on the sides so you can carry it to potlucks and church dinners more easily.
Upon its arrival to the old heart-pine farmhouse, that oyster pie is whisked inside and placed smack dab in the middle of the three long tables we’ve set up along the wall, buffet-style, for the big feast, right there among the dressing and the Sister Schubert’s rolls and the sweet potatoes with their sugary sweet pecan topping.
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That oyster pie is not the prettiest dish, and it’s not my favorite dish, either (my grandmother makes a mean coconut cake that takes that title). In truth, I’m not even sure what’s in that oyster pie: Oysters, obviously; some cream, probably; and saltines, definitely, crumbled right there on top.
But whatever is (or isn’t) in that oyster pie, it’s consistent. Year after year, it shows up and takes its place at the table. It’s a sign that my grandmother is there at the table, too. For me, that’s what makes it memorable.
See, our Thanksgiving is a little unconventional. For starters, we spend the day eating barbecue out of a pit at an old 1890s farmhouse on my uncle’s pig farm, which is idyllic and dreamy, unless the wind changes and you catch a less-than-savory whiff of the pig barns down the dirt road. But that’s just part of the experience.
Then there’s the crowd. Nearly 60 people, including everyone from first cousins to second-grade teachers, come to our casual gathering, which my mom’s brother has hosted for the past 17 years. My dad’s mother is one of those 60. She’s not related to most of the people there, but that’s no matter. After my grandfather died, my grandmother needed a new Thanksgiving tradition, so, at my uncle’s invitation, she and her oyster pie came to the inaugural pig pickin’ at his farm. And she and her oyster pie have been coming ever since.
That oyster pie, in its little white dish, nestled smack dab in the middle of those buffet tables, is a sweet (well, salty) reminder that our Thanksgiving gathering is pretty special: It’s a tradition that stretches across both branches of my family tree. For me, there’s no choosing sides on Thanksgiving, no running around to squeeze in time with everyone. Everybody and their oyster pie is already there.