The Food Almanac: September 1, 2012
Oysters "R" in Season
Today is the beginning of the oyster-eating season. Not that any dedicated oyster-eater has abstained from eating the succulent bivalves throughout the warmer months. Indeed, I pick up the pace in the summer, because raw oysters are refreshingly cold.
The idea that oysters should not be eaten in months without an "R" began, like most of our oyster culture, in New York City. New York's harbor once teemed with oysters. Before refrigeration, delivering oysters to places where people ate them was an open invitation to pathogens in the oysters, and people got sick. The prohibition against raw oysters in non-R months was not a tradition, but an actual law. The advent of refrigeration, especially when it began to start on the oyster boats, solved that forever.
There's also the matter of the spawning habits of oysters in summer. Sometimes it results in a milky liquid that can be off-putting, even though it's harmless. The oysters get flabby this time of year, too, and sometimes shrink dramatically when cooked. (Restaurants hate this, because they get the blame for what is really a natural state of affairs.)
As we begin September, we learn that it' s National Biscuit Month, Better Breakfast Month (bake biscuits!), National Chicken Month, National Cholesterol Education Month (I think we already know too much), National Honey Month, National Mushroom Month, National Organic Harvest Month, National Papaya Month, National Potato Month, and National Rice Month. But for me, it's Oyster Month.
Rockefeller is a township — a division smaller than a county but larger than a town--in the Allegheny Mountains in central Pennsylvania. It's 56 miles north of the state capital, Harrisburg. Rockefeller is a mix of rolling farming country and rather steep hills rising to 900 feet. The flatter parts were created by the Little Shamokin River, a tributary of the nearby Susquehanna River. The restaurants nearby are all in the town of Sunbury, a mile north. Lenig's comes recommended. Whether they serve oysters Rockefeller is doubtful.
Malpeque oyster, n. — An excellent population of oysters from Malpeque Bay, on the north coast of Prince Edward Island in southeast Canada. The oysters are of the same species found down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. But because the water is much colder than it is down here in Louisiana, the oysters don't get as large. The flavors become concentrated for the same reason, though, and these are excellent oysters. They are much liked in France, which imports many Malpeques.
Deft Dining Rule #129
The oyster fishery is in decline in any place where restaurants charge on a per-oyster basis.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When cooking oysters, when the edges of the oyster begin to curl, remove them from the heat. That means they've begun to shrink, and you neither want nor need that to happen.
Annals of Food Writing
My first restaurant review came out in print today in 1972. It has persisted every week since. I can't prove that it's the longest-running one-author restaurant review column in the world, but I think it is. I invite anyone who knows of a longer-running such column to bring it forward.
Jazz saxophone great Art Pepper was born today in 1925... Today in 1878, Emma M. Nutt became the first female phone operator in America, in Boston... Two Bacons: Today in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led an uprising against the British governor in Jamestown, Virginia. It resulted in the town's being burned to the ground, ad became known as Bacon's Rebellion. And Ezekiel Bacon, a Massachusetts Congressman in the early 1800s, was born today in 1776... In 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, was born... Classical composer John Bake was born today in 1787.
Words to Eat Oysters By
"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans." — Ernest Hemingway.
"Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and Champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance, I reply, 'In my mother's womb, probably as a result of the oysters and Champagne — the food of Aphrodite.'" — Isadora Duncan.
"He was a very valiant man who first adventured on eating oysters." — King James I.
"I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we're talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters, or working for organized crime 'associates,' food, for me, has always been an adventure." — Anthony Bourdain.
Words to Drink By
"Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." — Alfred Jarry.