After the twinkling lights and ornaments have been packed away, most of the nation settles into a deep hibernation – where social obligations are few and rarely spent outdoors. However, coastal residents continue to celebrate the season with a knife in one hand and a glove on the other. In the Southeast, it’s fair to estimate that a mention of a bushel of oysters is met with greater enthusiasm and attendance than any given warm-weather party (no matter how many kegs or slip’n’ slides are advertised).
Oysters have been a part of the local diet even before the arrival of Europeans. Pre-colonial mounds (AKA middens) of oyster shells can still be found scattered across barrier islands and throughout the Lowcountry. In fact, historians believe that the oyster roast as we now know it most certainly has Native American roots. Native Americans also used the razor-sharp shells for a variety of tasks.
Early settlers made use of the leftover shells, burning them to extract lime then mixing it with sand, water, and more oyster shells to create a durable type of concrete called "tabby." Tabby is known for being able to withstand the elements (even fire), and it was used in the building of houses and other structures, some of which are still standing.
Oysters continued to gain significance throughout the colonies and it is even said that Charleston’s old social calendar was purposely aligned with the season for oyster harvesting. However, most Charleston socialites didn’t originally shuck oysters, but poached them for soups and sauces. One of the most ubiquitous of these dishes was creamed oysters or "chafing dish oysters." Ladled over toast or pastries, creamed oysters were almost as important to a ball as the champagne... (Read more below.)
Today, oyster farms have become a popular industry throughout the Southeast. Thanks to aquaculture techniques and environmental conditions, the region has been called the "Napa Valley of oysters." Each area lays claim to having the best oysters, due to variations in size, taste, and texture.
Oysters are not only tasty, but good for you, too. They’re low in the things you don’t want – like fat and cholesterol – and high in the things you do want, like protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.
Some oyster facts:
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!