The entire summer I look forward to eating oysters as soon as the season turns – something I stick to rather strictly – not only is the water colder ensuring less risk of nasties travelling out of the sea along with the oysters, but they’re actually leaner and taste their briny best (not a fan of creamy oysters, I’m not).
Something interesting I’ve come across here in Australian markets is the sale of opened oysters in trays of a dozen or so, complete with lemon. I find that odd, and even though the markets here deliver really fresh produce, the whole point of eating an oyster is enjoying that ‘just opened’ brine that it’s gently floating in.
There are few things more disappointing than sitting in a restaurant, ordering a dozen oysters, and when they arrive, its plain to see they were probably shucked well before you had your breakfast that day. Never is getting through 12 oysters so hard for an oyster lover.
MFK Fisher, whom I still consider one of the best food writers to ever have penned epicurious things, has written much on the subject of the oyster in “Consider the Oyster”, my copy of which is enclosed in the compendium “The Art of Eating“, a read I return to again and again.
She writes that ‘an oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life‘. Detailing beautifully the beginnings of life for an oyster (as a he), she writes “For about a year this oyster – our oyster – is a male, fertilising a few hundred thousand eggs as best he can without ever knowing whether they swim by or not. Then one day, maternal longings surge between his two valves in his cold guts and gills and all his crinkly fringes. Necessity, that well-known mother, makes him one. He is a she.
From then on she, with occasional vacations of being masculine just to keep her hand in, bears her millions yearly. She is in the full bloom of womanhood when she is about seven. “
It is also around that time (or even shorter these days with farmed species) that we humans go around harvesting these hardworking oysters for our own enjoyment. Many ideas swirl about regarding the best time to eat them, and Fisher has the following to say: ” Men’s ideas, though, continue to run in the old channels about oysters as well as God and war and women. Even when they know better they insist that months with R in them are all right but that oysters in June or July or May or August will kill you or make you wish they had. This is wrong, of course, except that all oysters, like all men, are somewhat weaker after they have done their at reproducing.” ( R is for Oyster, in Consider the Oyster)
Superstitious or not, I’m sticking to the colder months, and leaving the oysters to their private parties in summer!
So there you have it. Eat them now, eat them at Christmas, but I like the way the Almanach de Gourmands (1803) states it: “Oysters are the usual opening to a winter breakfast… indeed they are almost indispensable.”