Oysters. This post is all about oysters. While William Least Heat-Moon has some other things that take place in Plymouth, the mention of oysters got my mouth watering and so I had to write about it. If you want to see where Plymouth is located, click on the map. And enjoy an oyster and a cold one while you do it!
"In Plymouth I saw a sign at a gas station: DIESEL FUEL AND OYSTERS IN SEASON."
Blue Highways: Part 2, Chapter 7
Plymouth, North Carolina
I've been dealing with some pretty heavy issues, death and all that, in some of the previous posts. I don't feel like being so heavy today. Sure, in this chapter, LHM talks with a guy about timber being cut down for tobacco fields, and how the tobacco that is produced nowadays (at least in the late 70s and early 80s when this was written) is not the tobacco of old. It has overtones of mechanization and progress and how those factors supplant the old ways of life and being. All with LHM's approximation of the man's North Carolina speech patterns.
All of that is good stuff, but I feel like talking about oysters. LHM's account of the sign proclaiming "diesel fuel and oysters in season" has me thinking about those delicacies, and wondering if I will ever be able to taste them in my favorite city again.
I never thought I'd like oysters. Served raw on the shell, they seemed to be slimy and somewhat disgusting. You can imagine how I felt when I discovered that the thing that I sometimes gingerly chewed on or let slide whole down my throat was probably still alive as I bit down or swallowed into my esophagus, to meet its final end in my stomach acid. It seemed like torture, both to me and the oyster.
But when one lives in a town where the oyster is a big part of the local economy, for me it was New Orleans, you quickly come to love oysters. Hanging out at Cooter Brown's in the Riverbend and getting freshly shucked oysters, mixing the Louisiana hot sauce with some horseradish and dabbing it on, swallowing the salty, slimy goodness and washing it down with an Abita amber...aaahhhh, that's the life!
I've never done any research on oysters, but I will bet they are easily the most popular seafood ever. Just the other day, my wife and I visited Silver City, New Mexico. It's far inland - no ocean is near. I'm sure with modern transportation, fresh oysters on ice could be shipped easily to a restaurant in Silver City. But I was in the local museum, looking at pictures from the early 1900s, and in one picture showing flood damage on a Silver City street, a sign on a local establishment said "Fresh Oysters Today." Considering that it was probably at least a two-day trip to the coast by railroad, and that would be without stopping and going overnight, how could Silver City get fresh oysters at that particular time? And, there was a demand for fresh oysters in Silver City in the early 1900s! I know that many of the silver prospectors probably came from either coast, but it just seems amazing to me, and indicative of the power of the oyster.
Of course, they are supposed to be aphrodisiacs, but I think that's just because of the suggestive way you have to slurp them off the shell as the juices drip down your mouth. I personally have never felt any aphrodisiac effect from them - though perhaps I haven't eaten them in the right company at the right moment. And that brings me back to New Orleans, because it was there that I learned that you don't have to enjoy them just on the shell. You can have them on a garlic oyster po' boy. Or as a bacon-wrapped appetizer, or even as a kind of gumbo or stew at Commanders Palace (where I bit down on one and discovered a pearl - the first time that's ever happened to me!).
I wonder if, after the BP oil spill, I will be able to go to my favorite New Orleans eating establishments and get oysters. Their ecosystem is fragile, and I'm afraid that oysters and shrimp might go away for a while. Will I have to travel to the coasts to find my oysters or will Louisiana import oysters from places like Plymouth, North Carolina until its fishing industry gets its footing back? Two things I know. The BP spill taught me that petroleum products and oysters don't mix, unless the petroleum is fueling the refrigerator truck that is bringing them to where I can eat them. And secondly, I look with a kind eye upon any place where I have the option to get an oyster, whichever way it is served. Plymouth, I'm looking at you.
If you want to know more about Plymouth
Next up: Manteo, North Carolina