Oystering season is Sundays in November and December, and lucky me, I had the opportunity to participate in a New England tradition on one of the coldest days of the year.
A friend of mine invited me to join her family in Bourne, Massachusetts for oystering. I have never been oystering, let alone shellfishing, and those fishing rods my family bought for the beach have been collecting dust for over 10 years. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my life at the beach so I was looking forward to the chance to stretch my “sea legs” and try something new.
What I didn’t know was that oystering is very similar to looking for shells. That simple? Not exactly, but fairly close.
My friends and I donned our gear – I wore wool socks with rubber boots, a down jacket, and heavy duty mittens while the pros wore waders equipped with neoprene et al. This city girl tried her best to fit in to the mostly male dominated “sport” with her manicure and Ray Bans.
We rode in the back of a pickup to the beach – the wind already causing a severe chill. It was about 35 degrees Fahrenheit with a strong and constant wind. We grabbed our tools – a regulation bucket, a rake, and a club. That was all we needed – plus a permit from the town of Bourne which came with a measuring tool with which you compare oyster size. In order to take oysters, they have to be at least 3 inches. And the shellfishing warden checks. (This is Massachusetts after all.)
Our first stop was a bit crowded and the oysters were already spare even though low tide was just upon us. After briefly conferring, it was determined that we would be going to the “secret spot.” Crossing roads, climbing jetties, traversing a reedy swamp, sliding between trees, and dodging driftwood. This path led us to the motherload of oysters.
I finally saw oysters in their natural habitat and was able to pick them out of the water myself. There they sat, mixed in with the rocks, shells, snails, periwinkles, seaweed, and other things I would rather not know about, on top of the sand.
We spent about an hour gathering enough oysters to fill our bucket. We made sure they were the right size – which takes about 3 years. My job was to club any unwanted attachments off of the oysters – an art I realized when my friend delicately yet forcefully knocked off stubborn snails with one tap. I got the hang of it eventually with my frozen hands, getting those suckers off the beautiful oysters.
With a chainmail glove on one hand and a knife in the other, you hold the oyster down while jabbing the knife into the hinge of the shell, applying pressure until the sides of the oyster bubble with water. That’s when you know you have some leverage. You angle the knife and hope the shell pops open. Once you do that, you slide the knife along the top shell, opening it up and releasing the oyster from the muscle on top. The top shell is tossed and you go under the animal on the bottom shell with the knife to detach the other muscle.
And although you feel really terrible for killing this innocent animal who was just chillen at the beach, you know that this is the way of the world and that it will taste delicious.
And then, we fried them. To quote my friend who probably guzzled 8 raw oysters and about 15 fried ones, they tasted like “heaven.”
All in all, those oysters were definitely a treat worth suffering in the cold for. So glad I was able to go shellfishing with pros.