Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 30th Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival At Boone Hall Plantation-The Mighty Oyster Returns

The mighty oyster
It never occurred to me the warmest months of the year, May through August in the northern hemisphere, do not contain the letter "r", but all the other months do. Actually, I never really thought about it, until now. Why this sudden realization? It's oyster time in Charleston and the 30th Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation will take place Sunday, January 27th. In the spirit of this well-liked festival, coined as the world's largest, I decided to do some oyster research and found this interesting fact.

It was once believed you should not eat oysters in any month that doesn't have an "r" in it. The truth is that oysters are safe to eat all year round; they just aren't as good in the summer months, when the waters are warm. This is when the oysters spawn, and their flesh turns milky and soft. Winter is a better time to eat oysters because that's when the water is coldest and the oysters are firmer, plumper and the flavor is best. Thus, this explains why you don't see any oyster festivals in the summertime.

My take on the consumption of the slimy bivalves is you either like them or you don't. I am in the don't category, unless they are coated and fried. What possessed the first individual to have even considered consuming the slippery, white matter is a mystery. Perhaps, that person saw a sea gull pick one up, fly into the air, drop it on a rock, and then eat its fleshy parts. Curiosity being what it is, that person decided to give it a try and loved it. To tell the truth, I have been in the Charleston area seven years and haven't as of yet indulged in the oyster frenzy. Maybe, it's time I give the roast a try.

Roman emperors paid for them by their weight in gold, Casanova and Cleopatra believed in their powers as an aphrodisiac, Abraham Lincoln had parties where only oysters were served, and Native Americans voraciously consumed them. The peninsula of Charleston was known as Oyster Point and White Point Gardens got its name from the piles of oyster shells found there. Charleston's oysters grow naturally in clusters, but between the years of 1830 and 1869 a high quality oyster appeared on the scene that did not grow in clusters. It was called a Millpond Oyster and it grew as a single, large oyster. Millponds were used by the Charleston lumber industry before steam power appeared. Logs would sink to the bottom and the oyster spat would attach themselves and grow. When the use of millponds were abandoned, this delicacy disappeared from Charleston markets.

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It is believed the best oysters in Charleston come from the Bulls Bay area north of Mt. Pleasant. The reason being the bay's topography. Bulls Bay is a large but shallow stretch of water. The entire bay is open to the ocean; the amount of water that can flow in and out is not limited by narrow inlets. The tides flush the bay and surrounding creeks with each lunar cycle creating a convergence of high salinity water with the incoming tides and an eradicating of low salinity rain water and runoff with each outgoing tide. Saltwater makes for good oysters and great festivals.

The Lowcountry Oyster Festival has been named one of the "top 20 events in the southeast." Over 80,000 pounds of the slimy mollusks will be made available to be shucked and eaten by over an estimated 10,000 visitors. There will be "Oyster Shucking" and "Oyster Eating" Contests. JetBlue will be giving away tickets every hour on the hour and will be good from February 28, 2013 - February 28, 2014. If you are not an oyster-lover there will be a food court setup featuring 8 different Charleston area restaurants. There will be live music on the main stage, wine, a selection of domestic and imported beers. A Children's Area, hosted by Pluff Mudd Circus, including jugglers, aerial artists, and bounce castles will be on site. It starts at 10:30 am. The morning for Sunday looks to be cool, around 40 degrees, but it will warm up to a high of 58 degrees. It closes at 5:00 pm. General admission is $12.

Boone Hall Plantation scenery
Charleston residents love their oysters, but they love their boats too. This weekend is the Charleston Boat Show at the Charleston area Convention Center, January 25-27. General admission on Friday is $5 and $9 Saturday and Sunday. For all the information go to Charleston Boat Show.

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