Lizzy and I were in the midst of weeding the mandala, a spiral shaped garden hosting a combination of flowers, herbs and veggies, when Chad walked up and mentioned, “It’s 10:30, so if you want to get oysters, you should do it while it is low tide.” I was up and dusting off my hands before he even finished his sentence. I knew what time it was. We had been talking about going oyster hunting for a week and had checked the tide schedule the night before.
We grabbed buckets, chisels, mallets and Betty the dog, and headed across the road, down the muddy path, and out on to the rocky beach that is Cable Bay. Though we’ve been at Uma Rapiti for ten days, I had yet to venture down to the beach. I didn’t realize a) how close it was or b) that it was more oyster mecca than beach. Within three steps of the path and out onto the black rocks, I was crunching oysters under my feet. It was impossible not to step on them as they covered everything. I reached down, grabbed one and twisted it off the tip of the rock and tossed it in my bucket. Beginners luck though; none of the other oysters were that easy to get off.
Lizzy showed us how to chip the oysters off of the rock, but mentioned that if we broke the shell, it was best to eat them right then and there. So we squatted down where we were and started whacking away at the rock, carelessly breaking shells left and right. Since we had to eat them, I downed the first four plump, salty oysters that I attempted to harvest. Woops?
“Stina, you think it’s ok if they come off in a big cluster?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Ooh, look at this one!”
Grinning ear to ear, teetering from one rock to the next, and snapping ohmygod this is so awesome pics, we were on cloud nine.
Before the moment flew by, I perched on a rock to soak it all in and give a silent thanks to the powers that be. Holy shit. This is actually happening. Eating oysters right off the rocks. In New Zealand. Part of me couldn’t believe how exhilarating the whole experience was.
That pause also allowed me to realize that I could easily overindulge if I kept slurping oysters at a that pace. Also, I still only had one in my bucket, so I slowed down and worked a little more carefully from then on out, making sure not to break the shells.
Lizzy went off with Betty to collect driftwood and Zach and I unintentionally parted ways, as we both walked, noses down, in opposite directions down the rocky coastline. I could hear the chink chink chink of him collecting what I thought to be WAY more oysters than we four could eat, so I focused on looking for mussels, which were nestled in the tide pools and far less abundant.
About an hour later, we headed home to figure out how to shuck, fry, and consume the morning’s haul. Inspired by the fried oyster salad at Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore, we set out picking lettuce from the car tire planters in the garden, and roasting root veggies in the toaster oven. Zach figured out how to shuck and once he got a hang of it, taught me. The first one was the hardest, and I thought for sure I was going to impale myself with the shucking tool, but after a few, I got a hang of it. I imagine shucking oysters is a bit like killing an animal, in that it makes you appreciate something that is pretty hard to do, that one often takes for granted. Oh, they don’t just come on the half shell?
Harvesting, shucking, cleaning, soaking, battering (in cornmeal, not abuse), then finally fried and served up atop a salad. To celebrate our luxurious lunch, we unscrewed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Jurassic Ridge, a vineyard up the road. As we sat down to eat, someone pointed out that the oysters came from the beach, the herbs, lettuce, veggies, and oranges in the salad were all from the garden, and the bread baked fresh that morning. The salt, pepper, butter and oil were the only things not from within a mile of the farm.
The meal was the culmination of an awesome, inspiring experience. The day was the perfect combination of favorite activities, exploring new places, and learning practical skills. And yes, shucking oysters is practical.