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The Secret Life of Oysters

Oysters not only taste good, but do a lot of good for our environment.

Oysters not only taste good, but do a lot of good for our environment.

It’s late winter in North America, and most people are suffering from winter doldrums, and summer seems far, far away. I thought I’d brighten your week by sharing some thoughts about oysters, even though we don’t celebrate National Oyster Day till August. Personally, I think six months is too long to wait; oysters are so good, we should celebrate them every day of the year.

The English satirist, Jonathan Swift, once said, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” There may be some truth to that. Oysters are slimy and shaped funny with little folds in them that promise a world of delight. They can be white or gray, and their bodies sometimes fringed with a little black. But that’s part of the fun of eating them. If oysters had the consistency of an apple, the color of a carrot, or the appearance of broccoli, they would lose a lot of their mystery.

Oysters do a great service to mankind. They keep the waters around the mouth of our bays and estuaries clean. Did you know each oyster filters about a half of a gallon of water, and it’s for that reason some people are repulsed by them? That’s good! That means there’s that many more for me and other oyster lovers.

This may come as a shock to you, but did you also know that our beloved Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed, was once called Oyster Island? That was before the very first European settlers felt it was their duty to rape the land and pollute the waters when they came to the New World. It may be hard to conceive this, but this area once teemed with huge, juicy oysters.

Oysters are not only delicious, but are good for you. Not only are they filled with zinc, iron, and vitamin B-12, but they contain amino acids that promote sexual performance, earning them the reputation of being an aphrodisiac. The womanizer, Casanova, known for his wild affairs, was reputed to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast.  I don’t think I could eat that many at one time and then frolic with my wife, but it’s something I think I’ll put on my bucket list.

Some people are actually allergic to oysters. They go into anaphylactic shock much like those with a severe reaction to bee stings. I feel sorry for them because eating oysters is one of Life’s simple pleasures. As one of those unlucky people allergic to bee stings, I can relate to their frustration. I always find pastoral scenes filled with orchards and bees uncomfortable if not down right horrific. I think to myself what moron thinks owning a quilt or wallpaper with bees prominently displayed is cute. I imagine those allergic to oysters feel the same way when they see oyster shells embedded in sidewalks or displayed in art.

As boring as oysters may seem to the untrained eye, oysters have a rich and colorful life. Many are hermaphrodites, meaning they can change from male to female and back throughout their lives. They can start spawning in one year but become adults by the time they’re three. Some species of oysters can grow to a whopping ten inches and live as long as twenty years. Unless, of course, the poor creature has the unfortunate luck to be within an arm’s reach of my dinner plate.

As an oyster lover, I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but if you live in or are visiting South Carolina’s Grand Strand, I encourage you to visit Prossers in Murrells Inlet, located on Highway 17, just down the street from the firehouse. Every Thursday they serve a lunch buffet whose main feature is fried oysters. I’ve eaten oysters in a lot of restaurants, but you will be hard-pressed to find a place that does oysters better than Prossers. The batter the chef uses is enough to make anyone weep with joy. You can check them out at http://prossersbbq.com/

Oysters can be eaten raw, fried, baked, in a stew, or as Oysters Rockefeller. Here’s a common recipe for fried oysters that you can try at home. Roll as many oysters as you can possibly eat in flour, bathe them in a beaten egg, then roll in bread crumbs. Some recipes call for frying for two minutes in vegetable oil though olive oil is healthier for you. Pat them on a paper towel and slip those treasures onto your platter.

And remember! Since you’re the chef, don’t hesitate to sample at least a half dozen to be sure you’re doing it right. Besides you earned it. Hey, they’re your oysters.

I have a sign hanging in my house which says, “Fried oysters. Beer on ice. That’s Paradise.” Who could argue with that? How about you? What’s your favorite way to enjoy oysters? Write and let me know. Maybe I’ll see you at Prosser’s this coming Thursday. If you come, promise to leave a few of those choice, juicy oysters in the pan for me.

                                                 Bill Hegerich

                                                The Uncommon Mariner

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