Oysters -

One of the most democratic of food luxuries is the oyster - you find it in high favor in the most expensive establishments, yet it is equally abundant in "popular price" restaurants, in lunch rooms and in the cheapest of eating stalls. In stores, it is sold both in and out of the shell, fresh and canned, and it is eaten in every conceivable way!

Among the best known varieties are: Blue Points, Rockaways, Lynnhavens, Saddle Rocks, Cotuits, Cape Cods, Buzzard Bays, etc.

These titles have in many sections lost much of their first significance by trade misuse. "Blue Point," for example, is often, though incorrectly, applied to all small OYSTERS, irrespective of their geographical source; and "Rockaway" and "Saddle Rock," particularly the former, are similarly employed for large sizes. As a matter of fact, there are both small and large OYSTERS of all varieties, the difference in size being chiefly that of age.

A small quantity of European OYSTERS is imported every year - particularly of the French Marennes, which has a greenish color from feeding on a green seaweed, but it is intended only for limited consumption in a few cosmopolitan establishments. The general trend is the other way 'round, for every year sees large exports of American OYSTERS, which are almost universally conceded to be the finest in the world.

OYSTERS have been enjoyed as food as far back as history takes us and have been an object of special culture for a couple of thousand years. Every country has its own particular method of cultivation, for within the last century even those sections where the natural crop is largest have been compelled to resort to special growing to keep pace with the enormous annual consumption.

In England, the most popular method consists in spreading the brood-OYSTERS over smooth, hard, clean areas. In Holland and France, they are bred on tiles ranged sideways in rows along the shores and thence later removed to the deeper waters from which they are dredged for the market. In this country, the seed-OYSTERS are generally spread on a carefully laid bed of old shells - oyster shells, mussel shells, etc.

The growing period intervening between the first setting and the final shifting, is ordinarily three years, but is subject to variations in accordance with the size of the seed when planted, its rate of growth, the size desired, etc. On some grounds the rate of growth is much more rapid than on others.

Between March 1 and July 1, the planter shifts the OYSTERS he intends to market in the fall, from beds of soft bottom to those of hard bottom. This change has been found beneficial to the oyster, as it clears it of mud and other extraneous substances and improves its color and flavor, and it also gives an opportunity for separating the clusters, when necessary, into single OYSTERS. The bed thus cleared by shifting is replanted with seed-OYSTERS, obtained generally from natural beds.

The season for marketing opens with September. The OYSTERS are taken by means of dredges and tongs and are prepared for the market by "culling" or sorting by sizes, the dirt and attached shells being removed during the process. In some cases the cleaning is assisted by dumping them on the sand at low tide, removing them at the next low tide.

The three sizes chiefly recognized in the trade are "half-shells," the smallest, usually preferred for eating raw; "culls," medium size, for consumption raw, stewing, etc.; and "box," the largest, generally for frying - although true oyster lovers take delight in large Lynnhavens or other deep sea OYSTERS "on the half-shell."

The eating of OYSTERS raw is as correct from a hygienic standpoint as from that of the epicure. Raw, the component parts of the oyster practically digest themselves in the human stomach. Cooked, the human stomach must do the work as for other food.

California OYSTERS are very much like those of the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe - small and of the same coppery taste. Those found further north, on the coasts of Oregon and Washington, are similar to the Atlantic varieties.

Large quantities are grown also in Japan and China, and in the latter country there is a heavy trade in dried OYSTERS, the bivalves being cooked and then sun-dried.

The oyster is peculiar in the fact that age makes no difference in its tenderness. Custom and trade demands result in its being consumed while still young and comparatively small, but if left to live until old and very much larger, the flesh is just as tender and fresh.

By almost universal custom, OYSTERS are tabooed during the months of May, June, July and August, but there is really no good reason for thus banishing them from the bill of fare. The oyster is not a desirable article of diet when spawning, which period covers from three to four weeks, but as the time of spawning differs in various localities, no elimination of certain fixed invariable months can ensure protection against their use in that condition, and the same care that is now exercised during eight months in the year could certainly be extended to cover the remaining four.

The rule is, however, a tradition of great and venerable age! It was first, we believe, put on record in 1599,recored in 1599, by a certain Dr. Butler, the vicar of an English country parish - but he can hardly be considered an authority sufficiently weighty to bind the human race for all time to come! The custom has been sustained with some reservations by recent European investigations, because of a disease apparently peculiar to that hemisphere to which OYSTERS cultivated there are subject during the summer months, but the symptoms noted have not been found in this country to any appreciable extent and to little, if any, greater degree in summer than at other seasons. In some sections of the United States, OYSTERS have indeed always been eaten as freely in summer as in winter without any bad effects being noted.

A valuable peculiarity of OYSTERS is the ease with which their lives can be sustained for a long time after being removed from their native element. Placed in a cool damp place, with the deep shell down and occasionally sprinkled with brackish water, they may be kept alive and in good condition for weeks. This tenacity is attributed to the liquor in the shells, which serves to sustain the respiratory currents.

When removed from the shell or "shucked," the oyster may still be kept in edible condition for several days, but it is then necessary to remove its liquor, for, although this is the medium by which existence is sustained while in the shell, it has been found to have the opposite effect after shucking. Shucked OYSTERS which are to be transported any considerable distance, are carefully washed, frequently in five or six waters, until no particle of any substance but the bivalve itself remains. Thus prepared, packed in air-tight receptacles and kept cold, they may be held eight to ten days without injuring their flavor or otherwise affecting them as an article of food.

OYSTERS should always be kept in a cool place, but never where there is any danger of freezing. The Color Page of OYSTERS faces page 436.

Arround Oysters in The Grocer's Encyclopedia

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