a LITTLE HISTORY OF THE BIVALVE, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS "THE OYSTER"
The Fulton Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) is pulling out all the stops with Oyster fest this year. In fact, with a crowd of 50,000 expected, there’s gonna be a whole lotta oyster-eatin going down. So, the FVFD wanted to share with you the some pretty interesting history of what Oyster fest celebrates - the oyster!
People have been eating oysters since prehistoric times. Many middens (a shell heap) have been found in Australia that date back 10,000 years and provides evidence that folks even that far back in time enjoyed eating oysters. Japan also loved these tasty bivalves and cultivated them as far back as 2000 BC. There’s even a town in England which has continuously oyster farmed from oyster beds that have been used since Roman times! WOW...who woulda thunk it?
In pre-Columbian times, Native American women harvested the oysters and prepared them for eating or preserved them for winter use. (Hmmm…wonder what they preserved them in; this might be worth doing some more research! Well, that’s another story, let’s get back to the history) Such early small-scale harvesting, usually by hand picking, raking, or tonging, eventually grew into industrial fisheries, and in the 1800's, transportation of huge quantities of oysters to the larger towns and cities, was made possible by train and ship. From its humble beginning, the oyster industry has continuously improved its tools, vessels, packing containers and operations for the culturing, harvesting, packing, and shipping of this delicious delight.
In the early 19th century, oysters were cheap and mainly eaten by the working man and the oyster beds in New York Harbor became the largest source of oysters worldwide. On any given day, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along the city's waterfront. Obviously they were quite the rage in New York City. Oysters were so popular they even helped start New York City’s restaurant trade. Unfortunately for the working stiffs, the rising demand played out many of the oyster beds and oysters became an expensive delicacy.
Thankfully, the folks at Oyster fest know what they’re doing when it comes to oysters. They’ve got more oysters than you can ever eat AND they’re affordable!
Only skilled hands can open up an oyster and only skilled oystermen can gather up all the oysters for this year’s Oyster fest celebration. Have you ever wondered how oysters are harvested? They simply gather them out of their beds. Sounds like a fairy tale…but it’s not! It is, however, not so simple as it sounds.
If oysters lived singly, scattered over the bay bottom, it would be next to impossible to obtain any in large quantities and have less in commercial value. Many edible mollusks live in this fashion and are seldom, if ever, found in the market. Oysters are gregarious reef builders, however, and occur in concentrations necessary to sustain a commercial fishery.
The principal gear used in harvesting is the oyster dredge, essentially a basket attached to a toothed bar. When dragged by an oyster boat over a reef, oysters are scraped off the bottom by the bar and caught in the basket. The dredge periodically is hauled aboard and the catch dumped on the deck. The small oysters and shells are culled from the market oysters and can be returned to the water without damage.
When the oysters are finally delivered to their final destination, it’s time for oyster shucking. Opening oysters, referred to as oyster-shucking, requires skill. The preferred method is to use a special knife (called an oyster knife, a variant of a shucking knife), with a short and thick blade about 2-inches long. While different methods are used to open an oyster (which sometimes depend on the type); the following is one commonly accepted oyster-shucking method.
Insert the blade, with moderate force and vibration if necessary, at the hinge between the two valves. Twist the blade until there is a slight pop. Slide the blade upward to cut the adductor muscle which holds the shell closed. An inexperienced shucker can apply too much force, which can result in an injury if the blade slips. Heavy gloves are necessary; apart from the knife, the shell itself can be razor sharp. Professional shuckers only need three seconds to open an oyster shell.
Shucking oysters has become a competitive sport and oyster-shucking competitions are staged around the world. In fact the Fulton Volunteer Fire Department has an oyster shucking contest during Oyster fest and they’re paying some heavy cash to the winners.
Oysters are not only great to eat but they’re also good for the environment and provide us with many needed vitamins as well. Oysters also clean the water.
Each oyster filters about 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. A day! Oysters can help plants grow too so don’t throw those used empty oyster shells in the garbage. The shells are great for growing your garden. Oyster shell is full of calcium. This can improve the soil’s pH balance, adds nutrients to the plants and strengthens their cell walls, which leads to healthy produce and flowers. So, next time, think twice about throwing the shells away. Pulverize those suckers and use them as fertilizer instead!
Oysters taste better in the winter. Ever wonder why you weren’t supposed to eat oysters in months that don’t have an R letter (May, June, July and August)? Back in the days before refrigeration they couldn’t keep them cold and fresh in the heat. The other reason is because the bivalves are spawning in the summer months, which gives them a weak and watery flavor. During the winter months the water is nice and cold and the mollusks thrive and just taste a lot better. And, did you know that eating oysters is healthy for you? They are also an excellent source of zinc, iron, calcium, and selenium, as well as vitamin A and vitamin B12!
So now that you know the facts I’ll let you in on where to go for the best oysters in Texas and that would be at the Fulton Oysterfest. Fried, grilled, baked or raw, you’ll be able to eat oysters to your heart’s content and so much more at the 38th Annual Fulton Oysterfest.