Everyone has heard the saying “Brave was the first man who ate an oyster.” I have visions of a prehistoric ancestor gathering an oyster out of the dark pluff mud of ancient Lowcountry waters, looking at it a with a bemused prehistoric expression and deciding to pry it open. What a delicious surprise he (or mostly likely “she” women being the usual gathers in the hunter-gatherer days) would have discovered! Plump and briny, eaten raw right out the shell – the same way many oyster lovers enjoy them today. I wonder what other foods have been eaten the same way for over 4,000 years? On Hilton Head Island you can still see the “shell rings” or “middens” of the original Native American inhabitants, which were made of discarded oyster shells. There are three of them on the Island, one in Sea Pines which dates to the second millennium BC. I love oysters. My favorites are fried with cracker meal batter served with tartar sauce; the oyster roast kind, eaten on a saltine with cocktail sauce; and raw, just out of the shell, which requires a special oyster knife and maybe some melted butter. Fancier preparations such as oyster stew and oysters rockefeller are fine for fancy occasions served with your grandmother’s silver and china on a damask tablecloth, and “angels on horseback” combine two of the best things on earth – foodwise – oysters wrapped in bacon and broiled to a crispy Hors d’ oeuvres delight. If you have never tried those, here is the recipe for 16 appetizer portions.
- 16 small shucked oysters
- 8 slices of bacon
- 16 wooden toothpicks
- Cook bacon on medium heat about halfway through, not crispy. Wrap ½ piece of bacon around each oyster and secure with a toothpick. Grill or broil five minutes on first side and turn on other side for about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Oysters are another one of nature’s gifts that keep on giving, as the shells are combined with mud to make tabby, which is a building material used widely throughout the Sea Islands during the 17th and 18th centuries. Modern decorators and crafters prize the shells for decorative purposes – applied to mirrors and candelabra – and made into jewelry. Crushed oyster shell driveways and little roads are found throughout Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The first time I ever saw a Christmas ornament made out of oyster shells was at the Bluffton Church of the Cross craft sale about 30 years ago. The ladies of the church made them into little “angels” with halos and wing. I still have several and they can still be found occasionally in Bluffton shops such as Eggs n Tricities and The Store. (They also made Santas out of okra pods but that is a story for another time). While you are enjoying your “r month” time in Bluffton and the Lowcountry be sure to make time for some oysters. Here are a few Bluffton restaurants where you can find these delicacies and enjoy them fried, roasted, raw, rockefellered, stewed, broiled, half shelled, po boy’d…..any way you prefer. I’ll be having mine fried with tartar sauce and hushpuppies. Remember, “The world is your oyster” shows that even Shakespeare appreciated the effort and the reward that goes into opening and enjoying these tasty gifts.