Oysters encapsulate everything which is good about the sea in one little shell. They are a fascinating, their history, their symbolism, their status through time in the socio-economic hierarchy and of course, their taste.
I was reading about the French oysters’ history, how when the Romans moved from salt as a salary the low marsh areas which were once used to collect salt became redundant and were repurposed into oyster beds. An excellent use of the land to farm the humble oyster to feed the poor of France.
Centuries later and across the channel in 1860, the three oyster companies in Whitstable alone, employed more than 100 boats and over 500 people, to send 50 million tons of oysters to London. Again oysters were for the poorest of folk. “Oysters and poverty always seem to go together,” as Pickwick’s Sam Weller remarked.
Over time, however, the beef and oyster pie ratio of more oysters for the poor began to change, and the proud statement of how much beef used become a boast of the number of oysters included instead.
Oysters now start at over £1.50 a pop at a stand-up festival and somewhat grander prices for a sit-down and a glass of champers. How times change.
I came across a wonderful article written back in 2010 in the Independent, which ran through the different tastes of British oysters, as though they are wines. I have copied in here and included a link to the full article should you wish to read it in full:
British oysters: a taster’s guide
Caledonian (Loch Creran)
Plump, silky and with a pleasant tang – the oysters served on ‘The Titanic’.
Bold and meaty in texture, these Hebridean oysters taste woody and nutty with a sugary finish.
Redolent of woods, these have a sharp and pointy aroma of salt and brine.
The sustainable beds produce some of the plumpest oysters with a flavour of citrus and nuts.
A neutral nose with a faint sense of sea-breeze and a distinct flavour of melon.
Silky, meaty, with an astringent aroma of sea salt and brine. Has an earthy base reminiscent of a forest floor.
One of only three oyster beds in Wales, their distinct salt and pepper flavour gives them a unique edge.
Taking 5 years to mature, these Cornish oysters are thought to have a superior flavour to their faster-growing counterparts.
Duchy Special (Helford)
Firm, plump, intense and with a body bursting with nutty flavours.
Frenchman’s Creek (Helford)
Firm and plump with a delicate nose suggestive of samphire and geranium; the finish that hints at tree bark.
Gathered using zero-carbon boats which don’t damage the beds, Fal oysters have a salty liquor and sweet flesh.
Flushed with the flavours of the Avon estuary, the fishermen of Bigbury Bay eat them with smoked bacon.
A light freshwater nose that belies strong flavour of cucumber and lettuce.
Mild in flavour with overtones of cut grass and walnut shell; a silky texture.
Oysters from the organic Dorset coast are rich in tones of pecan nut, avocado and cucumber.
A rich-bodied oyster with the flavour of salted butter and a stainless-steel finish.
Thin and delicate with a finish that builds to a lingering tang of stainless steel and ends with a prick of citrus fruit.
Meaty and chewy with a crisp metallic smack in the finish; it has a mild taste of cut grass with hints of walnut shell and driftwood.
Maldon (rock oyster)
Richly flavoured walnut and avocado oyster set off by a whiff of sea breeze; smooth and meaty texture.
A very distinct briny nose, then a complex flavour of salted butter followed by sweet cashew. A plump, firm and meaty texture.
From oysterbeds harvested since 1189, these oysters have a firm, creamy texture. It has a very clear flavour of salted butter.
Cedarbank Studio is full of paintings inspired by the sea and whats in it:
Here’s a few links which you might find to be of interest: