Living like a local: October means oysters
Wild oyster season in North Carolina opens in October, making it a prime time to enjoy oyster roasts. (iStock.com/Jennifer Blount)
October is a fantastic month for so many reasons. It is the start of the decorating season, for one. Houses are donned with ghosts, spiders and skeletons. Witches can be found cackling on doorsteps and in the stores. There are a multitude of haunted houses, pumpkin patches and hayrides all over town. There is candy – so much candy! These are all reasons to love October regardless of where you live, but here on the coast, we have one more reason to love October: oyster roasts! The weather happens to be beautiful and oysters are in season, making this a prime time of year to enjoy this backyard activity.
Before you host an oyster roast you will need to ensure you have proper equipment. I know I have touched on this before, but it bears repeating. Items you will need are a stand-alone propane burner that works with a stainless steel steam pot. The steam pot will have a stainless steel basket insert. You land lovers may call this contraption a turkey fryer. You will need oyster shuckers and little towels or washcloths. The towels are used to protect your hands while you hold and shuck the oyster. There are those who feel the barrier is unnecessary. They may have tough hands with thick skin and enjoy this bragging right. However, I have been shucking oysters for over 20 years, and I still need the towel. Last but not least, you need an outdoor table to be used as your base. I have seen fancy tables with a hole in the middle for collecting the shells, or plywood laying between two sawhorses. Any surface will do.
Oysters can be purchased at a number of spots. Greenville Loop Seafood or Motts Channel Seafood are my go-to choices. They are each located on the water, and you can see the fisherman pull up with their goods. This ensures fresh product. Always have the staff wash or rinse the oysters for you. Typically they offer, but if they forget, ask. Cooking the oysters is simple. Add a few inches of water to the bottom of the pot and put it on the flame. Next, put your basket full of oysters in the pot and cover. The oysters need to be cooked until they just start to open. Inevitably, some will not open; don’t eat these.
When the oysters are steamed, dump them out on the table and start your party! Standing around a table and shucking oysters with friends is a really good time. I always have saltines and Texas Pete hot sauce on the table. Some people may like lemon or maybe even something fancy like mignonette sauce. Your shells will need a place to go, so I recommend having a bucket for everyone to throw them into.
What to do with the bucket full of discarded shells can present its own quandary. My dog likes to sneak up to the bucket while we are busy enjoying oysters and steal the shells. For weeks I will find them strewn about the yard, hidden under bushes and behind the shed. This is an option, but there are better choices. Our dog is on to something, however, because oyster shells are great for soil. If you smash them up and mix them into the ground around your plants, they will enrich the soil. Oyster shells are loaded with calcium and microbes and other goodies to balance acidity and help plants flourish.
Oyster shells can also be used in crafts. They can make pretty jewelry or a great jewelry tray. If you place it on your nightstand, you have a spot for your rings, bracelets, and earrings. As a tray, they also work for paper clips, trinkets and keys. They look great decorating picture frames. If you live on the coast, you will have all kinds of uses for all kinds of shells.
Another option is to return the shells to the water, where they can be rehomed by the next crop of oysters. Empty shells can be dropped off for recycling at the New Hanover County or Brunswick County landfills, N.C. Coastal Federation offices, and some seafood markets. A list of locations can be found on the Coastal Federation’s website. There are a multitude of ways to dispose of oyster shells, but throwing them into the trash should not be one of them. Not only is that wasteful, it’s also illegal; state law prohibits the disposal of oyster shells in landfills.
October is a great time of the year. Candy and oysters may not seem like a classic pairing, but with friends, family and gorgeous weather, it is a recipe everyone can enjoy!