The sun is starting to set on Labor Day. Everybody is back from various trips to the beach, the weekend house or some exotic location. Summer is over. I think back on ours. It was a remarkably hectic ten weeks and yet, somehow, we did a lot of traveling to some beautiful places in New England.
The memory of a conversation about oysters with the Editor some time ago--apparently the culture of their cultivation is a transplant from Britain to North America--in turn reminds me of favorite summer moments. Eating Wellfleet oysters at their source during the end of June as the sun set to start our summer, a bookend of sorts, must top the list.
Would the moment be just as special if I were eating oysters now, as I watch the last sunset of summer? I think not. Oysters vary so much in size, shape, color, texture and taste. Their immediate environment contributes as much to their unique characteristics as ‘terroir’ (or ‘marine’) does for any food. Water temperature, salinity, flow rates, and variations in the composition of the plankton that sustains an oyster all converge to determine its character. I have eaten eaten Wellfleet oysters in many locations and am persuaded that eating oysters in their own locale is by far the better choice.
Much has been written about oysters as aphrodisiacs, about the slippery sensation they create as they slide down your throat and so on. For me, that is not what the experience is about. The memory of food in turn triggers memories of a journey, a place, a moment. Oysters, especially, do that.
I am an admitted food fancier, a Food Network addict who loves a good meal in a beautiful restaurant but I do not think ingredients should be fussed over and manipulated to the point where they barely can be discerned. For me, a natural ingredient simply prepared at its peak beats a complex French concoction.
So, back to Wellfleet and its oysters. I prefer oysters that are on the small side from the east coast, soft, a little briny but too much. They are one perfect bite, right out of the shell and into your mouth with some of their liquor. I have tried adding a squeeze of lemon, horseradish, hot sauce, fresh pepper, the ubiquitous cocktail sauce. On a brutally hot summer day in Chicago, we once ate a perfect dozen iced oysters with a brilliant mignonette sauce that had been frozen and then shaved onto them.
In Wellfleet, they serve their oysters barely chilled. I eat the first one as is--salty, sweet, a present from the waters where we waded just a few hours ago. The next one goes down with a wonderful house-made cocktail sauce. Next I pass up the vinegared mignonette and opt for pepper with a squeeze of lemon. Then sit for a minute, sip my cocktail, offer an oyster to my husband.
It is all too easy to toss them all back, fast. I remember to take my time. With this taste and the memory gates it opens, our summer has begun. And what I want most is to relax, slow down and live in this moment. For now, it is Wellfleet oysters (two remain along with that cocktail sauce), the sun, sand, salt and a day that has no right to end.