Moth is 12 when her mother sells her into servitude in Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure.For girls from the tenements of 1871 Manhattan, it’s the kindest choice available. When the abuse of her new mistress becomes too much, Moth runs away to live on the streets. Now she has a choice: stay on the street and risk becoming a “virgin cure” for a syphilitic man, or auctioning her virginity through a brothel known as the Infant School. On her journey, she encounters a colorful cast of unhappy servants, circus freaks, whores, and an unlikely female doctor.
When a girl from the brothel is wooing Moth, they eat oyster stew at a local shack called Graff’s. This recipe is in no way authentic to the time, but it’s still delicious!
The Oyster Cure
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 russet potato, diced
1/4 oyster mushrooms (optional, but so cute)
4 Tb butter
1/2 lb oyster meat (jarred is fine)
1/4 c flour
2 c whole milk
1 c beer, lager or ale, no stouts here!
1/4 soy sauce
Render the bacon in a large saucepan until it’s crispy. Remove, and add the butter to your pan. Cook the onion, celery, potato, and mushrooms in the bacon fat/ butter mixture. When the vegetables are soft, add the flour. Stir while cooking for one minute before adding the milk, beer, and soy. Let the stew simmer for a few minutes before adding the oysters in their juices. Cook just until they start to curl and serve immediately. I garnished mine with canned smoked oysters, scallions, and plenty of hot sauce.