A Summer Oyster Tradition

We have a summer tradition to picnic on oysters oh-so-fresh from their beds at Taylor Shellfish Farms on Chuckanut Drive.  Just south of Bellingham, WA, the retail shop has a few wooden tables, a grill and an amazing view of the San Juan Islands.  We generally bring along chilled Muscadet or a six-pack of Hefeweizen, lemons, hot sauce and if we've really thought ahead, fresh horseradish to grate.  After shucking and slurping 26 shigoku oysters (this time all they had left) we merrily toss the empty shells onto the beach beneath our feet. 

I like to theme read and for this occasion I re-read the slender and delightful Consider the Oyster by M.F.K. Fisher.  Basically a love letter to the oyster and all the joys of eating them, you can find an excellent review and excerpt here from NPR's "You Must Read This." All of Fisher's writing is memoir through food and she is right up there in my Favorite Writers Pantheon.  


“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” 

~ M.F.K. Fisher


In the chapter, "A Supper to Sleep On" Fisher writes about the pleasures of oyster stew.  It may sound incongruous, but while growing up in very landlocked South Dakota my mother always made oyster stew on Christmas Eve, as her mother had.  It seems to be a Catholic tradition for many families with a link to Irish immigrants.  The recipe is simple:  heat milk and a generous amount of butter slowly on the stove, drop in oysters with their reserved liquor, cook until the edges curl and serve with freshly-cracked pepper and oyster crackers.  It is one of the coziest meals I know.  

Before enrolling in my freshman year at Boston College, my dad took me to the Union Oyster House where I ate oysters on the half shell for the first time.  I was eighteen.  Sitting at the festive red and white checked table, I felt so Bostonian and grown up as I gamely ate raw oysters and tried to act sophisticated.  I was relieved when I realized I actually liked them.

Later I moved to San Francisco where I lived around the corner from the historic Swan's Oyster Depot, an institution since 1912 and just this past March rated by Bon Appetit as the 20th Most Important Restaurant in America.  Needless to say, I spent many happy hours throwing back oysters at their counter.  And there was that one birthday where I ate a dozen oysters as my appetizer and then decided I should have another dozen for my main course.  Those were heady days.

In Seattle I started eating at The Brooklyn Oyster Bar where I discovered Taylor's Shellfish Farm. To give you an idea of how much I came to love them, while working a dull job in a high rise building downtown I would click on Taylor's website as soon as I turned on my computer in the morning.  The website had a soundtrack of waves lapping, seagulls crying, a sailboat clanking against a buoy and their wooden sign creaking in the breeze.  This was my meditative "nature" music throughout the day, which would transport me away from my cubicle.   They've since updated their website and cut this feature, but happily I no longer work in an office building and I can listen to this soundtrack live.

Christian and I ate oysters together on our first date in July of 2007.  Three years later, we served oysters on the half shell at the luncheon celebration after our (second) wedding at The Teahouse in Stanley Park. On a trip to Kyoto we had one of the best meals of our life at Grotto Kaiseki, one couse featuring a single fresh oyster accented with a drop of ponzu.  Someday, we will visit Cancale, the seaside town in Brittany famous for oysters, and then trawl through all the oyster bars in Paris.  

I have my own oyster shuckers and even an antique Weimar porcelain oyster plate, a gift from my Aunt Cindy.  This aunt married a Frenchman, deals in antiques and lives in Paris.  She is wholly responsible for my early life as a Francophile (In junior high, I wrote a report on the Louvre, talked my parents into sending me to French immersion summer camp and read Anais Nin).  This is the first oyster plate in my collection of one.  There will be more.

I can also feast my eyes on oysters anytime I need a fix by looking at Dutch still lifes, celebrating the fleeting pleasures of life.  I especially like "Still Life with Gilt Goblet" hanging in the Rijksmuseum by Willem Claesz Heda which he painted in 1635.  

Last week I got a dose of more stunning still lifes, including more with oysters, lemons and delicate wine goblets at the Vancouver Art Gallery's exhibit of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish Masterworkswhich inspired me to take a crack at my own still life at Taylor's:


  1. Oysters! I like 'em fried but not so much raw. I have very fond memories of driving to Appalachicola, FL with my granddaddy (who lived in nearby Port St. Joe) to get fresh oysters. He loved 'em like you do and slurped 'em up right then and there. Enjoyed your food/memoir writing very much!

    1. Thank you Irene! Your book of poems arrived in the mail. I am going to go sit in the garden and read it right now! I see there is one poem entitled Oyster.......