I suggest you read “The Oxford Vignettes – The Oxford Carry-Out,” an interview with Leo and Jean Nollmeyer, before reading this as the two columns are sister stories.
When I read through “Cousin Sara’s” journals there is one topic that keeps popping up and every time I read about it, I get the giggles. It’s not necessarily that the topic is a funny one, but rather the subject matter tickles me and instantly I am back at the Oxford Carry – Out, most likely waiting in line, all the way back to where Lucille Wallops’ house used to be, holding my mother’s bike and a $10 bill. It would have most likely been on a very occasional late Friday afternoon, as we rarely ate out. Everyone in line came there expecting to wait for great food, so there wasn’t any angst no matter how long the line got. It just meant there was more time to share town news, also known in whispered circles as “gossip.”
It was a pretty big deal the first time my mother let me go to the Carry-Out all by myself to retrieve a family dinner. I believe I was about 10. Her bicycle was a royal blue Schwinn that had been purchased from Ed Vinecomb’s bicycle shop, otherwise known as “The Oxford Mews.” If her bike had an odometer, it would have measured around the world and back, I was sure of that. It had a wicker basket on the front just the right size for a bag filled with half a fried chicken, and a quart of their insanely popular iced tea with “chipped” ice – people still talk about it, really. My left hand would steer leaving my right hand to preciously hold four crab cakes with crackers. Mother would make the side vegetables at home. Once I had placed my order, a large portion of that $10 bill was returned to me, and I would begin my journey to Factory Street. It was a tense journey. There was a slight hill going up Tilghman Street and you had to have a little speed to make it to the top. It was hard to gather speed without standing up and so I began to pedal hard right in front of the Cutts & Case Shipyard. I was so intent on completing my responsibilities that, yes, I actually planned ahead on how I was to get up that hill with food in tow. I made it, and thereafter I was allowed to procure the rare meals from the Carry-Out.
I decided that maybe I was remembering the excitement that swirled around Carry-Out meals perhaps too dramatically. Since I was a child, I thought perhaps I was romanticizing what I considered a very special time and place in Oxford. So, to test my memory, I asked many people whom I knew grew up in Oxford or lived there during the “Carry-Out years.” And in confirmation of my enthusiasm for the subject matter, the responses I got were “priceless.”
I asked, “What was your favorite thing to order from the Oxford Carry-out?” Please enjoy the responses:
Fried chicken and French fries – I’ve looked everywhere for that combo, but nothing matches my taste memory of that. It was fried heaven.
Fried clams – always the fried clams!
Crab cakes, nothing better on crackers.
Soft crab sandwich!
Mom wasn’t the best cook, so on Carry-Out nights my sister and I would dance.
German potato salad!
German cheesecake – it was like a thin delicious breakfast pastry. I’ve never seen one since.
Mother was an excellent cook, and we always ate at home, unless we had been sailing as a family and it got late, then we might pick up something from the Carry-Out. It was real, home cooked food.
Fried shrimp! I still remember the Styrofoam flip tops!
Stuffed shrimp and crab imperial!
As a child all I wanted for my birthday was the stuffed shrimp.
My mother sent me with a dollar to pick up a pound of picked crabmeat. It was a luxury that we didn’t have to pick our own that night.
Mmmm, stuffed shrimp! Loved their crinkle cut fries, coleslaw and iced tea too. The ice itself was so good. Thin and “chipped.” We only got food from the Carry-Out when my well-to-do Uncle John was in town visiting once a year and he picked up the tab. I vividly remember taking everybody’s order and calling it in. It was terribly, terribly exciting!
Notice how most responses on the list have an exclamation point at the end? This is how everyone responded – with an unbridled enthusiasm that was like a wave crashing over them and for a moment they were transported back in time. Most of the people that lived in Oxford at that time lived paycheck to paycheck so eating out was truly a luxury.
Some would even barter for Carry-Out food. Leo’s brother-in-law was an engineer, but once a month “just for fun” he and his wife, Leo’s sister Joan, would come and help out for the weekend in trade for Carry-Out meals. On the trip down for the weekend, they would begin dreaming about what they would order…
Often enough, Leo’s father found himself making yet another batch of his locally famous Maryland Crab Soup. A tomato based sublime meal in itself, Leo described the process. “My dad started three days ahead to make the crab soup. Day one he boiled ham bones in a pot of water. Each day he added something new. It had fresh local vegetables and was loaded with fresh steamed crabmeat. On top we placed a “Little Fat” about a 3 to 3½-inch steamed fat crab. It was legal in those days to keep them.” The visual of this soup is amazing, isn’t it? It really was an entire meal in a cup.
Sheepishly, I gathered my gumption and asked Leo if “…perhaps any recipes from the Carry-Out remained? And if he would share some?” I don’t know if he realized my voice was cracking from my nervousness in asking at this point or with the anticipation that I might, just might get my hands on a Carry-Out recipe. My heart sank when he said there were none. So, I have composed a thank you on behalf of all the townsfolk that were lucky enough to taste some Oxford Carry-Out meals.
Dear Leo and Jean,
With no recipes it seems the Carry-Out will have carry on in our memories never tempting our tastebuds again. It was quite a restaurant and those of us that experienced it will never forget it. Thank you, Nollmeyer family, it was our pleasure to eat your meals. Thank you, thank you.
Patrons of the Oxford Carry-Out
Cathy Schmidt writes from Trappe where she and her husband Chef Brian Schmidt own Garden and Garnish Catering. A food explorer, Cathy loves to garden and cook from scratch.