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Oyster Ice Cream: A Thanksgiving Tradition Mark Twain Could Get Behind

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Chef José Andrés grew up in Spain, but he has embraced Thanksgiving as a window into American history. That's why the guests at his Thanksgiving dinner might be starting off with oyster ice cream.

Oyster ice cream was a favorite of Mark Twain's, Andrés explains on NPR's Tell Me More, and it shows up in Tom Sawyer. Now, the dish is featured at America Eats Tavern in Washington, D.C. That's a collaboration between Andrés and the National Archives, and is designed to explore classic American dishes and how they have changed through history.

Oyster ice cream may taste less peculiar than it sounds. The base is made by gently heating oysters and cream, "almost like you make the oyster stew," Andrés says in his accented English. "You will get that cream, with the beautiful oyster salty, briny flavor." Run it through an ice cream freezer, and he says the result is "this amazing oyster-flavored ice cream" – one that's savory, not sweet.

Oysters hold a prominent place in American food history, as NPR's Eliza Barclay has reported. New York City was Oyster Central in the 18th and 19th centuries, with oysters sold on street corners and at huge open markets. A dish of oyster ice cream topped with a single raw oyster on the half-shell "would be an amazing snack to start your Thanksgiving celebration," Andrés says. "That might seem very modern, but it is almost 200 years old."

Andrés also finds inspiration in Amelia Simmons, who wrote what is considered the first American cookbook, American Cookery, in 1798. "Many books at the time were copies of English textbooks. But she put her own take on those recipes," he says.

He is charmed by her "pompkin" pudding, a precursor of the pumpkin pie made with cream, eggs, nutmeg, ginger and mace. It's not unusual to see ingredients persevere through history, Andrés says. "But technique allows us to make recipes that are lighter, more flavorful."

Simmons also describes how to use cranberries to make a tart, rather than the traditional cranberry sauce. "The recipe is very simple, only three lines," Andrés says. Simmons strained the cranberries into a thick sauce, put them in a crust, and popped it into the oven.

And even though Andrés is a fan of turkey, he won't be serving it this Thanksgiving.

"This year, I'm making a baby roasted pig," Andrés says. "Traditions are there to be kept. But also traditions are there to be created. So I don't want to feel guilty, but sometimes, [it's] not only honoring the tradition of turkey but bringing new foods and items to the Thanksgiving menu."

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