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Pickled oysters.

Before the era of fast transport and refrigeration, inland dwellers could still enjoy the taste of oysters when preserved by pickling. Pickled oysters also, according to Rowan Jacobsen, “standard fare in every city on the eastern Seaboard [of the United States] in that heady precanning era when oysters were in demand far and wide.” A Geography of Oysters (New York 2007) They once were ubiquitous on the counters of American bars and British public houses. 252 Like so many other pickles, however, oysters taste too good this way, particularly paired with beer, to neglect. Jacobsen likes this recipe from the Hama Hama Oyster Company in Washington State. You will need some Ball jars.

Oysters_in_a_bed.png-¼ cup pickling salt
-2 cups water
-1 cup malt vinegar
-1 quart shucked oysters
-another ¾ cup water
-¼ cup brown sugar
-1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
-½ teaspoon mustard seeds
-another Tablespoon pickling salt
-1 teaspoon pickling spice
-1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
-2 thinly sliced lemons
-2 peeled and thinly sliced onions

  1. Boil the oysters in the salted water until firm: That will not take long.
  2. Meanwhile boil the ¾ cup of water with the vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, mustard seed, Tablespoon of salt, pickling spice and Worcestershire.
  3. Dump the oysters into a colander over a pan for collecting the brine and pour it over the oysters. “This,” as Jacobsen explains, “disperses the mustard seeds and spices through the oysters” without damaging them.
  4. Layer the oysters in your jars between lemon and onion, then top up the jars with the brine and seal them.


-The Hama Hama recipe makes a staggering 8 quarts of pickled oysters.

-Jacobsen does not specify what kind of vinegar to use. We chose malt but white or white wine vinegar would do.

-A plainer recipe for pickling oysters appears in the kitchen manuscript that Ellen Emlen kept at the midpoint of the nineteenth century. After washing the oysters in water and then with vinegar, she “[p]ut about 200 at a time in a pan with [ ] 3 tablespoonfuls of salt & [ ] cover[ed] them with boiling water,” shaking them “occasionally.” Then her instructions are to “take them off” the heat, “put the oysters in a jar, strew over them some 2 or 3 blades of mace, 12 allspice & vinegar, strain the liquor they were boiled in & pour over them.” Mrs. Emlen notes that her pickled oysters “are better for keeping 3 or 4 days. The Editor is grateful to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania for and Tara O’brien, its editor, for publishing a facsimile of the handwritten text earlier this year.