My aunt and uncle lived in Tokyo and would send canned oysters with a pearl, in the shell, from Mikimoto every Christmas. These oysters were collected by Japanese Pearl divers, called ama, who would dive to the depths of the sea and collect oysters in a basket tied to their waists. It was exciting to see how many pearls we would find in the oysters in our can, thankfully, we weren’t required to eat the oysters. My Mom kept those pearls in her jewelry box in hopes of one day making my sister and me each a necklace. Unfortunately, my aunt and uncle moved back to California before there were enough pearls for one strand.
The first fresh oyster that I ate was at Hogate’s Restaurant when I was nine. Oysters Rockefeller made me an instant fan of oysters, the melted cheese and spinach were a delicious combination. My Dad loved oysters, he impressed upon me the beauty of a very fresh oyster.
Years later, living near the ocean, oysters became a sought after appetizer whenever I was at a restaurant, I enjoyed them raw as well as steamed. My husband and I began to take mental notes on which oysters were our favorites. Blue Point oysters are so ubiquitous here on the east coast, their nickname is “the Budweiser” of oysters because everyone has eaten them. Blue Points are characterized as having medium salinity and minerality. Kumamoto oysters are small, frilly, and delicate. They are low in salinity so they are often called sweet. Malpeque oysters are very common, they are easy to eat, with the perfect balance of sweetness and brine.
In the seventeenth century, huge numbers of oysters lived in the Chesapeake Bay. Colonists first used hand tongs to harvest oysters, but by the 1800’s dredges were also in use. By the 1900’s, over harvesting and water pollution decimated many of the wild oyster beds in the United States. In the mid 1980’s, a rise in salinity triggered by the weather, which caused widespread oyster die off. Oyster populations are still at historic lows.
Moving to Cambridge in 1987, I learned that oysters have a prominent place in local society. Most of my friends had a family recipe for oysters. We would stand outside around a pot of steaming oysters with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or a beer in hand. One friend had a fishing “camp” in Hudson, we would play horseshoes and eat oysters.
Our sushi menu at General Tanuki’s Restaurant had a roll with tempura fried oysters, it was a customer favorite. In the beginning, we bought our fresh oysters from Captain’s Ketch in Easton. My husband, Matt, waited on a young man and a couple of his buddies as they stood at the bar one evening. He learned that the young man, Kevin McClarren, owned and operated The Choptank Oyster farm in Dorchester County. Matt recognized a business opportunity, he was always interested in locally sourced food for our menu. We were excited to try the farmed oysters and they did not disappoint, in fact, Choptank Sweets oysters are the best oysters that I have ever eaten. We quickly added the oysters as a special to our regular menu. It was a huge treat to have Kevin’s colleague, Bubba set up a “shucking” station and serve Choptank Sweets on the half shell, we sold out quickly.
Through the years, Matt and I looked forward to our visits to the Choptank Oyster Company Farm on Castle Haven Road. There’s nothing better in my estimation than eating delicious oysters on a chilly December afternoon with a view of the oyster floats on the beautiful Choptank River. Kevin and his crew are the best hosts.
The Choptank Oyster Company which began in 1996, is built on sustainability, they put as many if not more oysters into the water as they take out. Their mission is to produce a high quality oyster that is healthier for the consumer, while also helping to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Choptank Oyster Company reduces fishing pressure on the wild oyster population. Their oyster floats serve as a floating reef, providing habitat to many of the fish and invertebrate species that would inhabit a natural oyster reef. They have several million healthy oysters growing in the bay helping to filter the water. The Choptank Oyster Company only grows Crassostrea Virginica oysters that are native to the Chesapeake Bay.
The Choptank Oyster Company oysters are an excellent source of protein and are lower in fat than wild oysters. Luckily for oyster enthusiasts, Choptank Sweets can be enjoyed all year round, not just in the “R” months. Choptank Sweets will take your stuffing to new levels, try adding them to your Thanksgiving menu this year. For more information about these mouthwatering mollusks, check out their website or call them at 410.221.7900. Tell Kevin or Bubba that Kate and Matt General “sent you!”