Oysters have always been considered a delicacy and have been said to symbolize love. Past kings and queens were overcome by the taste and, in Greek mythology, the oyster shell is referenced many times. Oysters were in such high demand that they were bought and paid for by their weight in gold. Over time, as settlers came to the United States, it is said that farmers were the first to harvest oysters. The industry dates as far back as the 1800s in Delaware Bay in the United States. After oysters had been discovered in the States, the industry hit all time highs through the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The oyster industry continued to grow and prosper through the years. Today, about two billion pounds of oysters are consumed each year worldwide.
The Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is a bivalve mollusk found in sounds, bays and estuaries from New Brunswick, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Oysters grow in the rich coastal waters of Louisiana in large groups called reefs. These reefs provide habitat and foraging grounds for fish, crabs and shrimp. Half of the total oyster production comes from public seed grounds managed by the state and the remaining half from oyster farmers’ private leases. Louisiana oyster production is unique because many oyster farmers lease land from the state and, at the state’s expense, material is added to the bottom of the sites.
The spawning season for oysters in the Gulf of Mexico is typically May through November when the water temperature is above 68 degrees. Oysters may spawn several times during a season. They release eggs and sperm into the water. Fertilization takes place by chance. At two to three weeks of age, the oyster larvae settle at the bottom and become sessile. They are barely visible when they settle, about the size of a pin-head. At this stage, they are referred to as spat. During the spat stage, growth is rapid and will follow the shape of the surface to which it is attached. As it grows, the young oyster’s shell begins to thicken and take shape. When it reaches one inch in length, it is called a seed oyster. It takes approximately two years for an oyster to reach market size of 3 inches and above.
Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they use their gills to strain food from the water. They feed mostly on plankton and decaying organic matter. An oyster can filter water at a rate of 5 liters per hour.
Oyster boats are used to harvest oysters. They use an oyster dredge to drag the bottom, raking up the oysters. The dredge empties the oysters onto the boat where the oysters are sorted and small oysters and shells are returned to the water. The marketable oysters are placed into sacks of 85-100 oysters.
The main product from oysters is the oyster itself or the meat inside the shell. Oyster meat can be cooked in numerous ways or eaten raw. The shells can be returned to the water to build additional oyster reefs or they can be used as decoration, including in arts and crafts projects. Oysters can also produce pearls that are used for jewelry.
The National Heart and Lung Institute suggests including oysters into a low cholesterol diet because they contain a balance of lipids, carbohydrates and protein. Compared to poultry, raw oysters are lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. Four medium-sized oysters supply the recommended daily allowance of many necessary minerals. One raw oyster contains a variety of necessary vitamins including small amounts of vitamins A, B6, C, along with a whopping 133 percent of vitamin B12. There are 4.7 g of protein, or almost 5 percent of the daily requirement for a day's protein, in one oyster.
The maximum size of eastern oysters is approximately 12 inches long.
Louisiana is number one in commercial oyster production in the U.S.
Only one out of 10,000 animals will produce a pearl in the wild. Most of the pearls that are created by these mollusks begin with human intervention. Pieces of shells or beads are inserted inside an oyster. The natural process goes from there. The oyster covers the foreign substance with layers of calcium and protein. In time, a pearl is produced.
This kind of mollusk feeds on plankton, animal waste, decayed plants- most any small particles they suck in. Oysters can filter up to five liters of water each hour. What's most interesting about this is that the color of an oyster’s meat depends on what they eat. Usually, the meat is light beige, light gray or off-white.
70% of the oysters caught in the U.S. are from the Gulf Coast.
TERMS TO KNOW
Estuaries - The tidal mouth of a large river where the tide meets the stream
Hatchery - A controlled environment for the early portions of the oyster life cycle
Salinity - The saltiness or dissolved salt content of a body of water
Sessile - Permanently attached
Spat - Oyster larvae that have settled and are less than one inch in size
Spawning - The process of oysters releasing eggs or sperm into the water
Substrate - A supporting material that is bounded to something
Medium white sauce:
½ cup butter
2 to 3 packages frozen spinach
1 small stalk celery
Chopped green onion tops
½ cup plain soft bread crumbs
Minced garlic to taste
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Pepper to taste
Red pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1/3 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1 ounce absinthe liqueur
½ teaspoon anise seed or anise extract
½ cup melted butter
3 to 4 dozen oysters
Prepare medium white sauce using 1 stick butter and adding flour and milk to thicken.
Boil the spinach and drain well.
Combine spinach, celery, parsley, onion, and white sauce; stir well.
Add soft breadcrumbs, garlic, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and salt to taste.
Add seasoned crumbs, absinthe, anise seed and butter.
Prepare oysters by draining them well and drying.
Place in shallow pan under broiler for a few minutes to remove excess liquid.
When dry, remove and place 2 or 3 oysters in small shell until you have used all oysters, or you may place all of them in one large greased casserole.
Top each oyster with spinach sauce; cover with buttered crumbs and broil until brown.
Note: Small foil cups are good to use for individual servings. Be sure the oysters are well drained.
Louisiana Farm Bureau Women Cookbook, Page 105
Submitted by the Louisiana Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee