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FOOD: Oysters

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335906.  Wed May 14, 2008 5:22 am Reply with quote

Q: How do you train an oyster?

F: With an upturned chair and a whip.

A: Perfectly simple - you just hit it repeatedly with an iron rod.

European settlers in what is now New York City found the greatest abundance of oysters they'd ever known - many a foot long. But how to keep them fresh for trading inland, in the days before railways?

An oyster will stay alive and fresh, out of the water, for some weeks provided it keeps its shell tight shut. But it makes its living opening and closing its shell to filter the nutrients out of the water, so shutting up is unnatural to it.

New York oyster dealers found that oysters could be trained. They would place their chosen oysters in the oyster beds, day by day, gradually closer to the shore - so that the animals were exposed to low tide for a little longer each day. The oysters learned that they had to take in a good load of water while the tide was retreating, and then keep clammed up throughout the time they were out of the water.

This way they got in the habit of sealing their shells for long periods. Of course, the very last time they did this, they would open up to discover that they weren't on the shore at all, but disappearing down a greedy bastard’s gullet.

The French had a less fussy method of oyster-training. To keep the creatures fresh for the journey from le seaside to Paris, they would spread them out in the water and then tap them, one by one, every day, with an iron rod - the oysters, unsurprisingly, reacted to this by defensively sealing up. The result was the same - the bivalves got used to ever-longer closed up periods.

A 19th century American wit noted that a French oyster was trained “to keep its mouth shut when it enters society.”

S: The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky ( Vintage, 2007).

A giant oyster.
Oysters opening and closing.
An oyster being swallowed.


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