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Fishing in Public

Mother Shuckers: In Praise of Oysters

by | Oct 11, 2020

Hey folks. How goes your battle? This article is one I started six long months ago. Yeah, before corona. And yet I’m still plugging away. C’mon, you might wonder, why? What subject could keep your interest so long?

Oysters. And the more I’ve learned about them, the more they’ve kept my interest. I think they are the most important animal in the sea. They’re the pump that turns bad water to good. If there’s no good oysters, then you have no good water for the next fella down the line. And something else they take credit for: phytoplankton, on which they feed and produce even more, like photosynthesis.

Now I’m sure there’s some genius out there to correct me, so I’ll keep it simple. Let’s start with their history. It starts about 250 million years ago, when the scientists figure they started developing. But we’ll just move on up a ways, OK?

By and by, the Indians (original Americans) sure started liking them in a big way. And how do we know? Well, they left discarded shells in piles we call “middens.” Sometimes the piles would naturally end up underwater. Good news for everyone. It gave other species of sea creatures a good place to live, for one of the best things about oysters is their beds. They don’t mind at all if other guys bed down with them. “Great accommodations, boys! Fresh water, plenty to eat, make yourself at home.”

Yes, things went real smooth for a long time, especially in the estuaries of New England and the same deal around Puget Sound and Frisco. Even Jack London gettin’ in on the action, helping bust up oyster thieves. Somehow oysters have status. Always have. Used for money in some tribes. And they do have quite a sex life. They change from male to female and back again. So they (um, adults) masturbate millions of eggs a year. Very expedient, no?

So, things was going good until something called the Industrial Revolution comes about. Ain’t we just as smart as the Dickens? I mean to tell ya, we invent some humdinger soap — eats anything. Gasoline engines that just make you smile. Not thinking enough of what we’re doing to our lovely planet. And just as the bison go, so go the oysters.

Oysters are like the mothers of all other sea creatures. They feed other animals with their freshly brewed phytoplankton. But after their first cycle of growth, when they’re adrift, they start to settle down and spew millions of babies a year. Now you can see quite clear how if pollutants attack one part of an oyster bed, how easy it could be to nail all sorts of ’em. The worst case of dominoes that you can fear.

See, they must be protected, no matter the price, and it’s quite imperative that this be done quickly. Now they’re surviving, but I don’t know if they’ll ever come back as they were in the days of yesteryear. It was really sad that different species were lost. A lot got lost in their domain, which’d have a certain taste, their taste-reflection of their bay or estuary.

My good friend Cliff and I decided to visit J’s Oyster. Good place. While I was sitting there I got to thinking: I’ve had ’bout everything a guy could do with shellfish — steam ’em, shuck ’em, even jumped on ’em once or twice. But I never really had oysters till I ate some at J’s. And I’ll tell you, they were fucking great. They got a sampler plate. Mmmm, boy. They had ’em raw, with cocktail sauce, baked with stuffing, and my two favorites, Mornay and Rockefeller. All splendid.

Because of virus, I couldn’t get to see the cook to ask where they came from. I’ll bet local, though.

Whoa — stop the presses! I’ve just come across another oyster recipe: Oysters Kirkpatrick. Look it up — it sounds real good.

I shall let you know one other thing about oysters: don’t bother pursuing any jewelry. There’s two different kinds, known as the pearls and the one we like, true oyster.

Sad also that I can’t show you how to shuck ’em. And I’m not gonna tell you how hard it is to be an oyster farmer. I’ll tell you a book you can get at Portland Library: Shucked, by a girl Erin Byers Murray. There’s a picture of the gear and other stuff about farming. I highly recommend the volume.

So don’t ever forget what oysters are best for. Don’t stuff your guts with ’em. No, just an appreciative amount will be fine. And a bit of your favorite drink to wash ’em down, and you got the makings of (with a puff) one real groovy time.

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