ICO http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico Buy Online & Discover Duxbury Farm Raised Fresh Island Creek Oysters Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:55:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Mommy, Where Do Babies Come From? http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/mommy-where-do-babies-come-from/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/mommy-where-do-babies-come-from/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:54:11 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2257 We’ve been busy in the hatchery during the past few weeks growing and caring for some 14-day old oyster larvae. But first, let me back track and tell the story of how it all begins…

The act of spawning is simple…yet complicated. The idea of reproducing oysters merely consists of mixing some eggs and sperm together; however getting them to do it is the tricky part. In nature, when the water reaches a warm temperature, oysters let go their eggs and sperm into the water and the magic happens on its own. In a lab setting we mimic this exact process, called thermal spawning. After conditioning the oysters for about 4 weeks with heavy algae, the gonads are plump and ripe, ready for spawning. We place the oysters in a shallow tank of warm salt water (about 85° F) which begins to “set the mood” for our handsome devils. We feed them some algae, dim the lights, and put on some Barry Manilow. The waiting process can take some time, but oysters are able to sense when the others are spawning so once one goes the others aren’t far behind. Once spawning occurs, its important to separate males and females in order to avoid polyspermy. Polyspermy is when more than one sperm attack an egg and that egg becomes deformed. In our hatchery we then separate the individuals by sex into dishes where they can continue to spawn. So how can you tell males from females? Looking at oysters you cannot tell the sex but once they begin to spawn the difference is immediate.

In the photo above, the top left is a male clam releasing a milky white stream of sperm. Eggs and sperm look the same for both clams and oysters! There is a female on the bottom left puffing out clouds of tiny microscopic white balls, which are the eggs. Once the oysters are spent and have spawned out, we collect all of the eggs in buckets and use the sperm to fertilize them properly, avoiding polyspermy. We then can count how many eggs the oysters produced by simply counting how many are in 1 milliliter and do some math from there.

These eggs are so tiny they cannot be seen individually to the naked human eye, but all together they look like a pile of pink-colored fine sand. Under a microscope you can actually see each oyster and see right through their shells to their digestive system. In the photo above on the right, 2-day old oysters are seen under the microscope, and they are entering a stage called “D-stage” as their bodies form little D’s with a straight edge on the backs of their shells. These larvae will soon transition to become “young adults” within the next week or so!

 

★ Hannah Pearson runs our hatchery. She is from a small island on the East Coast of North America known as Rhode Island. She owns a lot of NCAA apparel from various schools. ★

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Farming: The Real Deal http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/farming-the-real-deal/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/farming-the-real-deal/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 15:17:18 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2251 It is easy to forget that the planet we live on is as much alive as we are. Things move and circulate and breathe and die and feed in ancient and unprompted ways. In the age of digital tweets and star gazing apps, we lose that inborn ability to participate in the epic and natural rhythms of life. The part of us that tells us to eat more meat in the colder months, the part of us that can predict the coming of a storm as air pressure drops over the bay. We cannot connect. Things feel disjointed.

These days we need reminders that the earth is not static, it is alive. The seasons are not determined by what Hallmark cards are on display. Local soils are not as dynamic and malleable as the colorful bins of exotic produce in grocery stores suggest.  No wonder why we are so disconnected.

This brings me to, oyster farming (you knew where I was headed with this one, didn’t you?).  The winter has been so long and cold – longer and colder than most –that it has extended the period of time where oysters are not growing.  Normally, things start to warm up a bit in Duxbury this time of year. The birds chirp, and the water temperature rises to level that wakes the oysters from their winter hibernation, allowing them to plump up and heal their chips . That just isn’t happening right now, and it is frustrating for everyone involved – farm to table.

This is where both the beauty and difficulty of working with a small farm lies. Everyone these days wants to work directly with Farmer Joe because there is real environmental and social value in doing so. When you work directly with a small farm you have fresher product, more transparency and accountability, better customer service, and hotter sales girls (ahem). You also are supporting local economies and in the case of Island Creek, supporting one of the most sustainable products out there.  But this also means that you are more directly affected by what happens on that small farm – natural disasters, a broken leg, a long winter.

It might seem incredulous that in 2014, we cannot control output with factory-like precision. But this is REAL farming.  Not the synthetic, seasonless magic of Monsanto seeds and Tyson Chicken wings. On the farm, we are as strategic and responsible as possible, but are ultimately vulnerable to factors that we cannot ever possibly control.  Like the pastoral generations of farmers before us, our sustenance and livelihood are at the mercy of nature. We must respect the process, however frustrating, and know that warmer days are ahead.

 

★ Michelle Wong is the newest member of the ICO sales team. She worked on the farm for many years before returning to ICO after she finished college. ★

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ICO NYC vs. “The Fuzz” http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/ico-nyc-vs-the-fuzz/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/ico-nyc-vs-the-fuzz/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 16:08:51 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2195 I have a binary relationship with the police.

On the one-hand, my brother-in-law is a good cop, a great one actually. He’s the police chief in Lunenburg, MA and he rocks a solid Tom Selleck mustache that has proved to be a beacon of the law.

Timeless.

Then there was the police chief in Harvard where I grew up – Officer Newman. I’m sure he’s a riot when he’s on a fishing trip or at a BBQ, but the dude made being a troublemaker a lot harder than I would have liked. He used to pull up next to my car and say:

“1992 White Volkswagon Cabriolet – last name Grady. It’s only a matter of time, kid”.

This inspired a direct effort to park my car at upstanding places like church parking lots or bake sales and then walk off to do whatever I shouldn’t be, just to bother him.

But the NYPD is a whole other kettle of fish. First of all, they’re literally everywhere – which I respect and understand. There are good cops who are required to bomb check, search, and loose trained dogs on our van – all sorts of activities that make me grateful the bags we carry only have oysters in the them. I don’t mind it, or take any strong position about it – they’re serving and protecting as promised and a little excitement in a long day is all good.

And then … there are the bad cops – known simply as “the Fuzz”.

“The Fuzz” does not want you to have your oysters.

“The Fuzz” will go out of their way to impede the long journey from our farm to your belly. “The Fuzz” dislikes our van and all we represent – fun, happiness, pleasure, and fresh air.

Exhibit A: On Saturday, Officer Fuzzworth was leaning against a building ripping on a cigarette while I idled at a light after just pulling away from a delivery – my window was down so could take in the marginally less freezing breeze and spread a little Dolly Parton love to the good people of Chelsea … when I heard him make fun of a homeless person -Seriously?  *Boos*

I must have made quite a face in reaction (I’m super subtle with the faces*  *not at all) because he looked over, saw I hadn’t fastened my seatbelt yet and pulled me over on foot while smoking a cigarette to give me a $138 dollar ticket – not 137 or 139. $138 seems a tad egregious for forgetting to buckle up the nano-second you leave a parking spot, but I guess for this guy the price was right.

I was telling this story to Tayler during our cozy 5am cooler chat, and he told me about Exhibit B: “The Fuzz” had exploded at him while delivering to the Dutch for, well – delivering to the Dutch. Just for existing and driving a van with a neat picture of a farmer on the side.  When I asked Tayler how he responded, reminding him that at Island Creek we pride ourselves on not getting riled up about these sorts of things (though I did cry once when I biker spit on my window), he said and I quote -

“Well I just said a civilian shouldn’t have to tell a police officer to calm down”  -

That’s our boy Tayler – making moves with peaceful protest.

So let’s think of it this way – every time we get our oysters past “the Fuzz” and to your table in the big city  - you’re rebelling a little bit against them, the “Man”, and other ineffectual bureaucracy that break up a good party.

And we like that.

NOTE: if you’re a NYPD officer who loves oysters – Truce. Also, we love you Chief Marino.

★ Hannah Grady runs the whirling gyre that is Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop.  She arrived on this island of misfit toys only recently, so please welcome her warmly and follow her on twitter:@grady_train ★

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Frankenfish http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/frankenfish/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/frankenfish/#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 14:38:45 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2219 Even though it kind of makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit, I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t looking forward to eating a salmon hot dog. At least, that’s what I hear is something I can do this weekend.  That’s right, the Seafood Expo is coming to Boston this Sunday through Tuesday. Touted as being the “Largest Seafood Trade Show in North America”, the Seafood Expo hosts thousands of vendors from all over the world. Plebeians, chefs, and buyers come to rub elbows with experts in seafood marketing, processing, safety and sustainability. Talk about cerebral candy. As someone who not only works in the seafood industry but also has a personal interest in the topic, this event is one that I have been looking forward to for a while (I am or may not have weaseled myself a free ticket).

As a student at the University of New Hampshire, I studied EcoGastronomy – in human speak, that is the study of sustainable agriculture and food culture.  A huge part of the program consisted of staying up-to-date with current events in the food world; anything from droughts, to blights, to restaurant trends, veganism – you name it. Being the seafood freak that I am, one topic that has caught my eye over the past few months is the introduction of Genetically Modified fish into the global seafood market.

Genetically Modified fish have had their DNA altered to be faster growing, hardier, and less susceptible to changes in things such as temperature and water salinity. You can genetically modify anything nowadays – currently 90% of all corn and soy grown in the United States is genetically modified in some way. Ideally, these GMO fish are the perfect animal to farm for mass consumption. Supporters of this controversial topic believe that embracing the farming of GMO fish would feed more people at a lower economic and environmental cost. It would also alleviate pressure on depleted wild fish stocks; letting varieties that have nearly been hunted to extinction (ie. cod and wild salmon) to heal and thrive once again.  It really isn’t hard to see the benefits.

But, not everyone views Genetically Modified fish in such a positive light. Those who argue against the practice, call GMO fish “Franken Fish” – a disgusting creature assembled by godless scientists in lab coats. Other counter-arguments include genetic pollution in wild fish and health concerns in humans. Pick up the newspaper (or look online, gosh 2014)– I dare you not to find an article about controversial legislature on GMO policies.

I stand somewhere in the middle of the war zone that is the Great GMO Debate.

We still do not know all of the risks on human health and the environment that GMOs pose – this goes for GMO corn and soy too. WE, you and I, are the first generation, the guinea pigs of GMO testing. Yet, how else do we enable wild stocks to rebound if we are not willing to consume less, or find an alternative source of seafood?

Will the world become a place where the fishermen become fish farmers? I have no clue, and I am not saying that is how it should be. Just letting the ol’ mind wander. This is not a problem that rests solely on the shoulders of us New Englanders, but on the shoulders of the whole world.  If you eat fish, know a fisherman, or even think dolphins are super cute – you have a personal investment in the health of the oceans’ ecosystems. You are also responsible for finding a solution. And solutions are just the thing I hope to find at the Seafood Expo in Boston. That, and a salmon hot dog.

 

★ Michelle Wong is the newest member of the ICO sales team. She worked on the farm for many years before returning to ICO after she finished college. ★

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New Year, New Babies, New Species! http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/new-year-new-babies-new-species/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/new-year-new-babies-new-species/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 15:45:23 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2171 Hi, I’m not sure we’ve met yet! My name is Hannah Pearson and I am Island Creek’s new hatchery manager! We’ve got a lot going on in our hatchery this season that we’d like to share with you and I’ll keep you updated here! There is a lot that happens behind the scenes of a hatchery and I will take you through the processes and the “science behind it all” while also keeping you informed of the progress of our babies! So, what IS a hatchery you may ask? A hatchery is a facility where eggs are hatched under artificial conditions, including those of fish, shellfish, or poultry. Just like famers raise chickens, turkeys, or ducks, we raise oysters in our facility so that eventually we can plant them in Duxbury Bay, let them grow, and 2 years later they’ll end up on your plate! Out in the wild, male and female oysters release eggs and sperm into the water (a process I will refer to as “spawning”) in order to reproduce…so all we do is allow them to do this within our lab and we retain all the eggs and raise them in our large tanks.  Its like an incubator for baby chicks—gotta give them a head start on life.

Shellfish are filter feeders, which means they use their gills to filter out any nutrients or algae in the water to feed. So in our hatchery, we produce a lot of algae to feed our adults and babies. Yes, we raise shellfish but we raise algae too, which is just as important! If you stick around for the journey I’ll be explaining everything we do in order to run this hatchery!

You may think that we’re growing oysters here, but this year the hatchery got an early start this season, just in time to host a new shellfish species: the Atlantic Surf Clam! Maybe you’re familiar with these guys as they’re the ones you see dug down in the sand…or the big clamshells you find on the beach. You can find surf clams, also known as “Spisula” anywhere on the east coast from Nova Scotia down to South Carolina, so you can imagine it’s a popular clam to eat! We had our very first Spisula spawn at the end of January, which didn’t come as much of a surprise as, unlike most other shellfish, Spisula spawn naturally in colder waters. Spisula eggs are very ripe around this time of year, so within a hatchery setting, any slight change in seawater temperature can really “set the mood” for the clams and that’s how we ended up with 11 million Spisula eggs! Luckily we were prepared for babies as we’ve been growing 6 different kinds of algae that include both baby food and adult food. It’s important to have a variety of algae available, as baby shellfish cannot consume adult food because it is simply too big a cell size to digest. Adults can consume all algae species and should be fed multiple kinds in order to beef up their gonads so we can get mature eggs and sperm.

In the hatchery, we always have “broodstock” which are adult shellfish that we bring in from Duxbury Bay. Because we bring in shellfish from cold water, the gonads are not ripe so we have to “condition” them by feeding them lots of algae.  After a few weeks of heavy feeding, the eggs and sperm within the oysters or clams will be ripe and ready to go! Our broodstock for the first few weeks of the season included oysters, Spisula, and clams!

Very soon after the Spisula, we had a clam spawn and it didn’t take many ripe females to achieve a total of 34 million eggs! The microscopic larvae require a lot of attention, as they need clean, warm, and aerated water, and lots of food, so we are busy keeping our larvae happy and healthy. This week was an exciting one in the hatchery as the Spisula have entered metamorphosis! Young larvae, called “veligers”, have a part of their body that they can stick out of their shell and use to swim around the tank. They use “cilia” which are tiny hairs that they can move around.

A couple weeks later, when they are ready to move on to the adult form, they enter metamorphosis where they grow a foot and crawl around the bottom and sides of the tank. Eventually the larvae lose their swimming ability, so they “set” using their foot. Like large adult clams, these post-set juveniles can use their foot to become mobile.

We are planning our first oyster spawn for next week. We’ve been conditioning some nice-looking Island Creeks for over a month with rich and plentiful algae so that we can get the best-looking babies possible! Stay tuned to find out the science behind spawning!

★ Hannah Pearson runs our hatchery. She is from a small island on the East Coast of North America known as Rhode Island. She’s a big Big Buddy Cianci fan. ★

 

 

 

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Consider your Oyster http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/consider-your-oyster-2/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/consider-your-oyster-2/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 15:00:25 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2162 About 3 years ago, Claudia Vestal gave me a copy of MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating, dog-eared at “Consider the Oyster”. I had left the city, my (non) job in the arts, and was working on a horse farm shoveling manure for $18 a day (seriously) – as well as taking an aquaculture class in Barnstable once a week. I wouldn’t shut up about oysters, and as she prepped veggies and fresh bread for the epic Raclette dinner that followed – Claudia pronounced without lifting her eyes from the cutting board something like: “You loved the mud and sand when you were little- you always came in covered in dirt, after looking for this or that in the woods” – she said it almost as an epitaph, but full of love. Later, while we played bridge (more like they played while I fell asleep with a glass of port in my hand, happy as a clam*), I thought – she’s right. I love mud, oysters love mud, I love oysters. This might work out. I took the book home with my accompanying hangover, and didn’t touch it for over a year. I think I was scared to read it – anyone who John Updike calls “the poet of the appetites” is bound to drop some heavy truths.

It was a scorching day on Rexhame Beach when I finally pet that dog-ear and cracked Consider the Oyster. Two things struck me about the power of her thoughts on our bivalve friends. One was her laden description of an oyster’s life, what its experience would be if it were emotionally qualified. The other was the stew – damn. Even though I’d actually never had it at the time and it was topping 90 on the beach – her words made me long for different eras and drawing rooms, for lives I haven’t and can never live – her writing about oyster stew created nostalgia for something I’d never even tasted.

When I tell people about my job, the question I get most often from oysterphiles to seafood-haters is – but why do you love oysters?

It comes down to the ocean and nostalgia for me, plain and simple -

So many of us spend much of our lives ruminating on the ocean in our own ways – we want to understand it, we want to commune with it, we want it to be on our side. Anyone who has seen a good sunrise or set is working through the truth that it is greater and more powerful than us.  How do we get comfortable with its grandness, all that it has given and taken in its time? We sail it, we dive it, harvest it, paint it – but we can’t hold it or have it – until we consider the oyster.

So I’m considering them.

For my part, I love them because every bag is 100 opportunities for me to hold the whole ocean in my hand – those lazy childhood mornings in the tide-pools at Saquish, hoping to see seals – the midnight rumble across the Powder Point bridge with meter sticks and waders to watch horseshoe crabs spawn under a full moon with my sister – the New Year’s dunk that forgives all my sins and gives me a legitimate excuse to drink hot whiskey and wear sweatpants all day (new sins).

Oysters let me hold what I know of the ocean in my hand, crack it open and be with it – simply, deliciously, and nostalgically. So that’s how I consider my oyster.

And we’ve sold a few of them in our day so there’s got to be some stories out there – how do you consider yours?

* we sell those by the way – and they’re tasty!

 

★ Hannah Grady runs the whirling gyre that is Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop.  She arrived on this island of misfit toys only recently, so please welcome her warmly and follow her on twitter:@grady_train ★

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Nelson Mandela and Oyster Farming http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/mandela/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/mandela/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:41:17 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2148 Last month, revolutionary Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. His life was so extraordinary that his humanity is lost to us mortals. His actions transformed him from mere man into a symbol that is practically religious; the marrow of a movement that altered not only the way people lived, but how they treated one another and saw the world.

His legacy as a lawyer, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a political rebel, and peacemaker will long endure. One thing not everyone knows is that Nelson Mandela was a farmer. In a prison outside of Cape Town, Mandela convinced personnel to allow him the use of the sun-soaked, fallow prison roof to use as a garden. Utilizing crude resources like recycled oil drums Mandela worked with inmates every day planting cauliflower, peas, lettuce, and beans…transforming a useless space into a source of food and a source of pride. Within the confines of the rooftop garden, an oasis of constructive activity emerged. At one point, Mandela’s garden produced enough vegetables to supply the prison kitchen and even gave away the surplus to the wardens for them to take home. Mandela described the garden as one of his “happiest diversions”, and found connections between his time cultivating the garden and being an effective leader.

“In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”

 

As crazy as it may sound, I feel like the growers at Island Creek and Nelson Mandela have this same garden-found view in common. An ICO farmer plants seed, touching literally every oyster that he grows with his own hands. An oyster farmer watches, cultivates and harvests the results. Sometimes, an oyster farmer must fight off green crabs, viruses, and ice. Like Mandela in his garden, an oyster farmer must also take responsibility for what he cultivates. If his oysters are not ready for harvest, he returns them to his grant for as long as a year to be rolled around in the surf until they meet the grower’s perfectionist standards.

Even spending a little time out on the flats in Duxbury Bay can have a dramatic effect on a person. Things change. After a while the sun and storms become as predictable as your own waxing and waning. Your inner salinity parallels that of the ocean you tend. It becomes impossible not to see the potential in every harbor, every swatch of silt, every blade of eelgrass. Perhaps his time spent in the prison garden helped groom Nelson Mandela into the influential leader he one day would become.

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to grow, hunt, gather it can be hard to fully comprehend. There’s an inexplicable sense of satisfaction that only those who do it share. Nelson Mandela said it perfectly (as he did about everything)

“To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a taste of freedom.”

Life can seem so big. Extraordinary can seem so beyond our personal capacity.  That’s why it’s cool to find little things that reveal connectivity to the rest of the world. How an oyster farmer can find connection to a visionary leader, who finds a connection to the earth and ultimately, everything else in between.

 

★ Michelle Wong is the newest member of the ICO sales team. She worked on the farm for many years before returning to ICO after she finished college. ★

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Thank you Nestor http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/thank-you-nestor/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/thank-you-nestor/#comments Mon, 02 Dec 2013 14:38:31 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2138 Working in New York City for Island Creek – we see a lot of people. Between the truck and operations, we’re talking a multitude of chefs and their dedicated staff, unhinged pedestrians, James Spader, adorable babies, James Spader …

Some of what we witness is poetic, some we wish we could un-see (you can ask about that some other time) – so I decided with all this face time, we should riff off the recent success of HONY’s book release – Humans of New York. If you don’t follow it, do yourself a favor and get on it – it is a veritable buffet of emotions ranging from joyful giggles to tear-jerking ugly cries, all borne from the simple act of a photographer interviewing people on the streets of New York, and taking their portrait. Like HONY, we also see and meet all sorts, but it’s the ones you don’t always see or meet that I find the most interesting; for me, it’s these guys and gals that are the lifeblood of this job – we couldn’t pull it off without them. No doubt, there’s many – but there’s one who really stands out for me. And I’d like you to meet him.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Island Creek family, ICO in NYC would like to introduce: Nestor. Nestor’s name might as well be Superman or Oz as far as I’m concerned. He manages the Brooklyn Fish Transfer in the Navy Yard from the wee hours of the morning (which to some is also known as last call in Boston) until every truck is headed on their way with all the wares they need – the man is the godfather of all things ocean. Nestor is my lifeline at 3:00 in the morning if things are running rocky, and not only that – he’s just the sweetest and I adore him in a professional but also I-wish-you-would-adopt-me-so-I-could-come-to-family-dinner kind of way.

Let’s set the scene: it’s 7:00 or so, and you roll up in the super-van to pick up oysters sent down overnight from Duxbury. You glide, er – stumble through the plastic door guards in your mom jeans and dirty Vineyard sweatshirt from 7th grade (I know, yikes) past Nestor’s dedicated team in yellow aprons who wave as they expertly filet hundreds of pounds of fish with mariachi pop booming in the background. Nestor sits in the back behind a desk piled high with manifests -he seems to prefer his orange sweatshirt and now that the weather is getting nippy, he wears a knit cap that suits him very well. I’ve never seen him eat, or drink a drop. I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He’s superhuman and smiles a lot and has impeccable manners.

He always asks me how I am. He tells me to sit down if I look tired. He notices if I’m hurt or stressed (I’m pretty good at being both), and has even sent me love advice via text message (totally wept in the truck after that one). He also lets me use his scales after they’re packed away for the day, which pretty much means we’re bonded for life. Basically, he’s a dreamboat and if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be able to get the best oysters to all the good people out there -like you.

So next time you’re cozied up at John Dory or Brooklyn Fish Camp about to slurp down some fresh oysters – do us a favor won’t you, and give a big heartfelt thank you to Nestor. He deserves it –  all the hard workers that you don’t see do.

* Nestor would like you to know that he did not agree to take this picture for a company – not even Island Creek – but he agreed to take it for me. See what I mean? He’s a gem …

 

★ Hannah Grady runs the whirling gyre that is Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop.  She arrived on this island of misfit toys only recently, so please welcome her warmly and follow her on twitter:@grady_train ★

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I Ate the Day Deliberately http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/i-ate-the-day-deliberately/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/i-ate-the-day-deliberately/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 01:46:17 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2119 This past Sunday morning, I sat at Scarlet Oak lamenting the death of Irish poet Seamus Heaney – my aunt, my mother and myself saddled up at the unusually quiet bar (so early were we, in fact, that my aunt shamelessly delivered their morning newspaper). We talked about life, my new job with Island Creek & our upcoming journey to the ‘aul Sod over Bloody Marys and a breakfast of champions for me – a half-dozen oysters. I heard news of his passing on the evening drive from Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop home to Rexhame Beach, and was struck if not a little unnerved by how deeply it affected me. Was it because he was a mere 4 years older than my own father who also endures and in turn enjoys a tender melancholy so familiar to me? Heaney’s “Postscript” could have easily been written from my father’s drafting table at Saquish. Was it because I lived in Ireland for some time and he was one of few who captured its elusive majesty? Or was it the oysters again (isn’t it always?)

In Heaney’s remembrance Friday in the Boston Globe, Kevin Cullen remarked,

” digesting the words of Seamus Heaney is akin to a plate of fine oysters: too many and you’ll miss the briny magnificence of those words” – though we’re not sure there’s such a thing as too many oysters in these parts – I saw his point and suddenly, a memory overwhelmed me.

I had my first oyster in Dublin in 2003 when I was 20. I had just moved there from Boston, and ventured to the Essex Street food market at Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. The market was cacophony for the senses – fresh dairy from Sheridan’s Cheese shop, Turkish coffee poured from an ibrik, bundled ducks hanging from stall frames like downy pulleys on a ship. At the very back of the market to the right of a gangly fiddler and his mad dog was a small canvas structure jutting haphazardly off the square. There were oysters – a whole lot of them, served with mini-pints of Guinness or champagne. Being 20, I figured any excuse for a late morning tipple was worth a try, though I hate to devalue the draw of the bivalves – I wanted to try them.

Really, being from New England, I needed to.

The stall was run by an old man and a much younger one, though both had faces like the thumb of a child left too long in a hot bath. The old one had a cap, the young one an impressive auburn beard that he pulled in alternating rhythm with his shucking. I approached, but the young one essentially screamed into my mouth “Oistirs!” – and I flushed crimson. This is a quality that endures a decade later, as I disclaimed my first and quite warm day on the Oysterplex and as the majority of chefs I encounter daily enjoy commenting upon. One chef at Grand Central Oyster Bar even recommended I buy better sunscreen.

I stepped up again, and he took my hand (I may or may not have fallen a little in love just then). I know now that what I held was the illustrious Ostrea edulis, the European flat- a rare oyster in our parts excepting a dwindling feral population transplanted to Boothbay Habor during the 1950s, as well as recently cultivated Belons also from Maine. At the time, it was just an oyster.

“Guinness or bubbly,” the beard warbled.

I went for the Guinness because, well – you just have to, don’t you?

I received a gruff “Cheers”, and put the shell to my lips imitating the rapturous head-tip he made as the oyster disappeared. At the first, it was an onslaught of slate and salt – like an arrow pulled from flesh and jammed into my mouth, followed quickly by all the delicate quivers – an earthy dense feeling, a mossy bloom, then a faint burst of sweet cream at the end. I pounded the Guinness (in fairness, it was my first oyster and the sheer notion of eating something live and raw was a lot to consider). After, I ate about a dozen more in consideration and not quite as many mini-Guinness**, watching the men slap their aprons into crates and shuck the shells like they were giving halos to angels. They told me lots of stories, and I told none – but it was when the older one started in with, ” Our shells clacked on the plates. / My tongue was a filling estuary, / My palate hung with starlight ” – that I knew they were no longer his words, but dozens of Heaney’s instead. Finally, I understood the poem, and it made me feel very lucky and alive.

**Lies – I drank a lot of Guinness

★ Hannah Grady runs the whirling gyre that is Island Creek’s Brooklyn shop.  She arrived on this island of misfit toys only recently, so please welcome her warmly and follow her on twitter: @grady_train ★

 

Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.

We had driven to the coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool thatch and crockery.

Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from the sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

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Stalking the Wild Sea Bean: A Good Excuse to Trudge Around the Marsh http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/stalking-the-wild-sea-bean-a-good-excuse-to-trudge-around-the-marsh/ http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/stalking-the-wild-sea-bean-a-good-excuse-to-trudge-around-the-marsh/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 12:19:32 +0000 http://islandcreekoysters.com/ico/?p=2090 Other than early strawberries and a few odds and ends, New England–always the proper lady–often makes you wait quite a long time before sampling her fruitful bounty each summer.  Indeed, the tomatoes are green and the lobsters are soft; however, one seaside gift from the gods is at its best this month–the wild sea bean.

What you may ask is a sea bean?  They are a gnarly little sea vegetable that looks like a cross between an asparagus and a cactus and tastes like a cross between a green bean and a salt lick.  They are a succulent that grows low to the ground in marshes the world over (but our local variety seem to be among the most tender) and if you stumbled upon one out of context, you might mistake it for something you would throw into a gold fish bowl for a little ambience (or more likely to quell that nagging feeling that there’s something very wrong with keeping a living thing in a tiny glass bowl…).  Sea Beans are also one of those wild vegetables, like so many of its foraged brethren, that go by a seemingly infinite number of colloquial names:  sea asparagus, samphfire, salicornia, glasswort, chicken feet, saltwort.  This is probably because it grows everywhere and has been used for everything from making glass (yes, hence the name) to feeding the Seri indians along the Sonoran coast of the Sea of Cortez.  Typical that people are just coming back to it as a salty spring staple, but I’m happy about it nonetheless.

Personally, I love picking them because its a good excuse to go walk around the marsh on a sunny day at high or low tide–an activity I thoroughly enjoy, but even I can’t generally justify doing for absolutely no reason.  The chefs we work with love them and they are also a great veggie addition to the awesome protein Duxbury Bay offers and generally can be found on our table all summer–lobster, clams, fish, oysters, scallops, mussels etc.  They go great with a mignonnette or blanched with some lemon (NB think acid to cut the strong salt like various oyster accoutrements).  They can be added to a starchy salad or anchor their own.  Below, find a great recipe from the man himself, ‘Honest’ Hank Shaw.  Now get out there and get your bean on!  Or just buy some from us… and you too can be as psyched as Jess is (pictured above)

★ Chris Sherman is Island Creek’s vice president.  He eats one sea bean for every one he picks.  Follow him on Twitter: @moresaltplease 

 

sea bean salad

by Hank Shaw

 

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