Oyster Season at Cape Cod
Oyster farmer Tamar Haspel harvests bivalves by the peck for eating fresh and making chowder.
Back when America was being populated by the world’s huddled masses, one of the myths that brought immigrants to our shores was that the country’s streets were paved with gold. My first day oystering reminded me of that myth because the beach was literally—literally!—paved with oysters. You had watch where you stepped because they were everywhere.
It was a problem, because while you were looking down to avoid the oysters, you were liable to run into another human being, there for the same reason. This was the season’s opening day, and there were almost as many oysterers as there were oysters.
Cape Cod, where I live, is prime oyster-growing territory (Wellfleet oysters are world-famous), but oysters in beach-paving quantity don’t just happen. Many Cape towns, including mine, take advantage of hospitable waters to grow their own. They buy (or, sometimes, are given) oyster seed, and plant them in beds where water conditions are good. They check on them every so often, and sometimes move them around, until they’re big enough to eat. Then they release them, and ring the dinner bell.
Oyster season usually opens in October and runs until the powers-that-be at the Natural Resources department decide that the supply is depleted. This past season, that was February. Over the course of that season, every holder of a town shellfish permit is allowed to take a half-peck of oysters per week. Depending on their size, that comes to about 50 to 60 oysters.
That’s 50 or 60 meaty, briny, sweet oysters, just plucked from the water. When the season began, I couldn’t bring myself to eat them any other way than ice-cold and raw, which I’ve always thought was the only way oysters should be eaten. As the season wore on, though, and I got used to eating as many oysters as I wanted (jealous yet?), I developed a fine recipe for oyster chowder.
My husband and I figure that we harvested some 500 oysters over the course of the season. That’s about 500 dollars’ worth at the fish market, twice that in a restaurant. The shellfish license was 20 bucks.
Please don’t tell the huddled masses.
—By Tamar Haspel, a freelance food and science writer at Starving Off the Land
Want more oysters? Check out our story on Apalachicola, Fla., oysters.
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