The Oyster Roast

A Delicious Party: Warming the Brisk Winds of the Lowcountry

OysterRoastMost of the tourists have gone and Beaufort County is embraced by true Lowcountry folk, full-time residents and winter snowbirds. It’s our time to party after another long spring and summer of servicing our wonderful guests. Nothing beats the venue of an oyster roast. There’s complexity to the physiology and proper preparation of the oyster but there’s nothing complicated about the process or the people eating the meat of these succulent bivalves. The conversation is light, the attire is casual, the beer is cold, the consumption is messy and a community has come together!

Fun Fact: When Henry Hudson came upon the island that would become New York City, half of the world’s population of oysters surrounded this island.

Although oyster roasts have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years, they have been woven into the culture of the Lowcountry for several centuries. So what is the big deal about oysters? You might be enamored by these filtering phenomes from both a mythical or historical  perspective. Oysters have always been linked with “love”. The Greek goddess, Aphrodite, broke through the surface of the ocean gliding on an oyster shell; she gave birth to Eros and the term, “Aphrodisiac” was born. Casanova, the eighteenth century lover reportedly consumed 50 raw oysters each morning for breakfast!  

Fun Fact: Oysters are considered healthy to consume for several reasons: They are loaded with zinc, are made up of 43% protein, strengthens our immune system and bones, and helps fight serious cases of acne.

Historically, oysters have been culturally significant. Archeologists have discovered shell rings supporting the fact that Indian tribes ate oysters in a community setting over 10,000 years ago on Hilton Head Island. The Romans were the first to farm oysters over 2,000 years ago, spreading the delicate taste throughout all of Europe. The oyster was a staple on the streets of New York City throughout the nineteenth century. Oyster bars and saloons painted the city, crossing all socio-economic boundaries. Photographs from the Bluffton Oyster factory dating back to the early 1900s show well-dressed ladies and gentlemen standing around tables pillared on high piles of oyster shells, enjoying afternoon oyster roasts.

Fun Fact: The oysters we eat do not produce pearls; those are only found in deep ocean oysters.

It doesn’t have to be a major occasion involving hundreds of people to put on a scrumptious oyster roast. A few friends and family with an open mind can make it happen. You do need some basic items, including fresh oysters, scrubbers, plywood  with a hole in the middle, barrel, beer buckets, beer, a fire, some stones, a tin metal sheet, burlap sacks, gloves, oyster knives, butter, cocktail sauce and horseradish. Mix these together with a little pinch from a protected recipe and your neighborhood will explode with the sounds of hissing oysters and carefree contagious laughter.

Fun Fact: Oyster shells make great fertilizer for flower gardens.The high levels of calcium help balance pH and strengthen the cell walls of the plants.

It’s a challenge to find anyone with roots in Beaufort County who doesn’t harbor cherished memories of oyster roasts. This doesn’t mean everyone loves to knock off 30 oysters. Pat Conroy, one of the greatest writers ever to call the Lowcountry his home, loved oyster roasts. However, he quoted his mother as saying, “I wouldn’t eat one of these balls of mucus in a famine.” Pat wrote tenderly about oysters and roasts in his 1999 publication, The Pat Conroy Cookbook. “The camaraderie and the gossip and the sheer goodwill of the crowd set the oyster roast apart for me as something particularly Southern and indigenous…”

Fun Fact: Live oysters close tightly when tapped.

Andrew Carmines, General Manager of Hudson’s Seafood Restaurant, has been encircled by the seafood business his whole life. His parents founded Hudson’s in 1975. He recalled that his favorite times on the Island were back when he was a kid; his parents would get together with several families along the lake in the Sea Pines Preserve. They would have awesome oyster roasts. He has a theory as to why oyster roasts are so popular in this area. Oysters in the gulf are much rounder and tend not to cluster. Our local oysters cluster together and grow thinner and longer. Therefore it takes more effort to cook them properly and to excavate the oysters from the shells. So the best way to solve that problem is to gather lots of energetic friends and family, have a roast, and shuck those juicy, briny buggers together.

As late fall arrives start planning your itinerary for indulging in the outstanding upcoming Oyster festivals. There are plenty of them.

The 16th annual Oyster Festival will be held November 11-13th. The event is organized by the Hilton Head Recreation Department and grows every year under the leadership of Director of Events, Joe Cain. Proceeds help fund scholarships for youngsters needing assistance to participate in the yearly recreation programs. Joe is a passionate guy and puts everything he’s got into this party. His greatest satisfaction is seeing so many thousands of people coming together seemingly centered on an oyster, but truly expanding friendships, while building a stronger community.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.