Do you remember eating a raw oyster for the first time? I have eaten plenty of oysters in various forms over my lifetime. Barbecued and sprinkled with lemon juice and pepper, smoked oysters from the little tins, placed upon a saltine cracker with cheese melted on top. I’ve even had an oyster burger, where the poor little fellows were breaded and deep fried to oblivion. Growing up in the Okanagan, that was about as close as you get to an oyster. Until last year when I attended the Osoyoos Oyster Festival.
I had to be coerced to be honest. I knew there would be cooked oysters, but I had never eaten a raw one and wasn’t all that keen to try. Too slimy and yucky. Upon arrival, most people had a glass of white wine in their hands, but they were focussed on what was being offered at the tables. Fresh, raw oysters straight from the ocean. I plucked up the nerve to try one. Down it went in one slurp, and I was left with a briny, crisp, delicious taste. A sip of ice cold white wine followed, then a taste explosion. My first raw oyster.
After that, I tried one of every kind on offer. My favourite being the Black Pearl from the Outlandish Shellfish Guild on the B.C Coast. What a treat it was to watch them shuck so quickly and cleanly. I kept a pearly half shell to take home with me as a memento, and found out that after you tip a raw oyster in your mouth, you should turn the shell upside down on the platter, appreciate it’s beauty and give thanks to the oyster farmer. “The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook” by Jairemarie Pomo taught me that. I learned a lot about the history and cultivation of oysters and the recipes look wonderful. I also read Mireille Guiliano’s “Meet Paris Oyster: A love affair with the perfect food”. If I ever go back to Paris, I will certainly visit a french oyster bar. Champagne and oysters? Yes, please.
Another cookbook that features not only oysters, but all types of shellfish was “How to Make Love to a Lobster” by Marjorie Harris and Peter Taylor. I read that an average yield is about 20 pearls for every 35,000 oysters, so the chances of finding a pearl is like winning the lottery. “Shellfish: the cookbook” edited by Karen Barnaby, has a recipe for Fresh oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce as well as Baked oysters with spinach and parmesan. They look very tasty. There is even a recipe for a cornmeal crusted oyster burger!
If you would like to take any of these books home, you can find them at the library. If you want to delve even deeper into the world of oysters, pick up “A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America” by Rowan Jacobsen. I would hesitate to call myself a “connoisseur” yet, but I already have my tickets for this years Oyster Festival, which is happening this weekend. And now it’s my husband’s turn, he has never eaten a raw oyster!
Caroline McKay is an Assistant Community Librarian at the Okanagan Regional Library, and a raw oyster convert.