Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thinking about Oysters

The oyster proverb first appears in Shakespeare's play 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' (1600 Act II, Scene II).

'Falstaff: I will not lend thee a penny.
Pistol: Why, then, the world's mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.' 

It appears that in about 1920 or so, Lester & Toner had a lot of oysters to shuck and indeed their world was one.  Now that oyster farming is making a pretty good comeback in this area, it is well that we consider this photo for a bit as our village was very much alive with all things oysters some 100 years ago.

Some us who wander about on local beaches notice more than a fair number of worn oyster shells.  Some banks and beaches to the east and west of town have what appears to be entire areas nearly without sand and dirt - all given way to great heap of shucked oyster shells.  Frankly it is hard to imagine  the "how many" in the harvests back then as Lester and Toner were just part of a dozen or so businesses devoted to the enterprise and we can, in our mind's eye, look at the surrounding waters and convince ourselves that oysters were as common as beach rocks.

Lester and Toner celebrated their business with something of a 'broadside" in 1926 - announcing their 10th year.  That selfsame picture above made it's way into the "announcement" and is partially covered up by portraits of the partners. Doing some quick figuring, with a business started in 1916 or thereabouts and going out of business in the 1960s, well it lasted nearly half a century.  That is a lot of oysters.

With the freight trains heading into the city every few hours, we figured that one of these fellows figured out that the market for their catch was a natural for the Fulton Fish Market and by golly there is actually a picture of the "Lester & Toner" booth there. 

We did some research because with all this history floating around and all this local oyster shucking,  Seems that oysters were pretty cheap way back then - $1.00 would buy you a beer and a dozen on the half shell.  Nowadays they are about $.80 each shucked and packed in their liquor on a retail basis so its pretty hard to judge but if they were a nickel each we would be amazed.  We did find one wholesale price from 1906 and it was for a gallon tin, net  weight 6.5 pounds for $9.00 but we don't know if that was wholesale or not but with 200 oysters to a tin, give or take that's about a nickel each.

What we suppose in all of this is that the business was only one to be in if you paid your workers next to nothing and had your own fleet to rake them off the bottom, canned them yourself and had your own booth in New York City to sell them from.  Henry Ford's principals exactly.  So now that  your mind is into are the opening directions from eHow. Be careful.


Things You'll Need

  • Stiff Brushes
  • Towels
  • Oysters
  • Bowls
  • Oyster Knives
  • Paring Knives
  • Stiff brushes
    • 1
      Make sure oysters are still alive by checking that their shells are tightly closed.
    • 2
      Scrub oysters with a stiff brush under running water.
    • 3
      Hold oyster in the palm of your hand with a towel so that you don't accidentally cut yourself.
    • 4
      Work over a bowl so that you can catch the oyster's juices.
    • 5
      Position the oyster in your hand with the cup-side down - so that its curved shell faces down and its flatter side faces up.
    • 6
      Insert a paring or oyster knife between the shells, near the hinge.
    • 7
      Twist the knife so that the oyster's muscles are detached.
    • 8
      Remove the top shell.
    • 9
      Scrape the meat from the top shell into the bottom shell.
    • 10
      Use the knife to cut the oyster from the bottom shell, or serve it on the half shell. 

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