Driven by an intense desire to be anywhere other than Manhattan, a friend and I took the train (known by locals as the Toonerville Trolley) to Oyster Bay, LI. Once there we made our way to the Planting Fields, an early 20th century estate where Coe Hall, a 65- room Tudor Revival mansion, is the crown jewel. The 409 acre grounds include greenhouses, formal gardens, paths and hiking trails and were originally landscaped by the Olmstead Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame. Today the whole shebang is a State Park.
The main greenhouse, known as Hibiscus House with not a hibiscus in sight, was open and filled with ‘exotic’ plants, most of which I couldn’t identify although the oranges and lemons were pretty obvious. Apparently William and Mai Coe, who built the house, were somewhat obsessed with plants and trees and had the money to indulge their passion.
We had a pretty awful lunch outdoors at the Magnolia Café (limited menu, one person to take orders) although I suspect the food scene is better later in the summer. In the same building are lots of great old photographs including one of the elegant wedding of Natalie, daughter of William and Mai, when she married an Italian count.
After inspecting more trails and falling in love with the weeping cherry trees, we
walked back to town, a little over a mile and a half.
In town I checked out the Bahr Gallery featuring wonderful vintage 1960s posters https://www.bahrgallery.com/. If you find yourself in this ‘hood I’d venture two miles further on to Sagamore Hill, home of Teddy Roosevelt which I visited years ago. (Sagamore is the Algonquin word for chieftain and Teddy was nothing if not a big chief. Tusks and stuffed heads abound.) If going to Sagamore Hill, get your hands on a car.
I toyed with a bear recipe in honor of Teddy but how many butchers feature that? Instead and to banish all thoughts of the café, how about oyster stew? This recipe can be made with oysters in a jar (hold the pearl) or canned although freshly shucked bivalves will be better.
Oyster Stew a la Sagamore Hill
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 pint oysters with their liquor, jarred or freshly shucked, about 2 dozen
1/4 cup flour
2 celery stalks, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cream (or use milk only)
Splash of Tabasco or other hot sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup parsley, minced
Rinse oysters under cold water then strain and reserve the oyster juice. Put oysters n a bowl.
Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture for a few minutes, stirring often.
When the roux turns the color of coffee-with-cream, stir in the celery and onions. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the oyster juice and any juices the oysters in the bowl have released. The flour in the roux will absorb the liquid and turn into a paste. Slowly add the milk and cream, stirring to incorporate while pouring. Add a healthy splash or two of hot sauce, to taste.
Heat the soup to steamy, but below a simmer, over low heat, cook for 15 minutes. Do NOT let it boil. Add oysters (if enormous cut into pieces) and cook for another 2 minutes, or until the edges just begin to curl.
Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve it forth.
Teddy drank enormous amounts of coffee but that’s too plebeian for the ultra-elegant Coes. I would serve oyster stew with crusty bread and good white wine or perhaps Prosecco.