A History Of Oysters


The East End has long been an oystering hotspot with a well-documented resurgence of the industry in both spiking numbers of new producers, as well as programs — like Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training program — that teach folks how to grow them, making this the perfect time for those interested to learn more about the history of the native edible mollusk.

The Southold Historical Society will continue its recent partnership with Peconic Landing to do just that by offering a free lecture at the Peconic Landing Community Center auditorium on Tuesday, April 2, titled “The History of Our Local Edible Oyster.” There, veteran marine educator with CCE, Mark Cappellino, will discuss the trajectory of the prized pearl producer, which has fed generations of Native Americans and area settlers. Oysters remain overwhelmingly popular as pint-sized proteins.

“It’s the fastest-growing segment of the food industry,” said history buff and oyster grower, Mike Osinski of Widow’s Peak Oysters, who regularly supplies both area and New York City spots with the succulent bivalve. “From my dock, I can see the old railroad dock where two freight trains left Greenport every day full of oysters — 2000 tons of oysters left Greenport bound for New York. Hard to believe that was nearly a century ago.”

New York City harbor was once the world’s largest source for oysters and one Greenport oyster cannery owner created a cartoon character, “Oscar the Oyster,” with an accompanying radio jingle to promote the business in the 1930s. These days, “diver” oysters are not as common as those that are grown in cages by producers like Osinski, who then sell stock to area restaurants and fish markets throughout Long Island, New York City, and beyond.

While oysters are most often enjoyed raw on the half shell, they are also baked or broiled with butter, herbs, and bread crumbs on top a la oysters Rockefeller, as well as grilled, smoked, deep fried, and in stews, all of which will be discussed at next week’s lecture.

Like wine grapes, oysters are known for being unique to the place they are produced with subtle differences to their individual “terroir.” This has to do with the animals’ important ecological function as filter-feeders that naturally clean the waters in which they live.

According to the event’s press release, an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day as they help to remove excess nitrogen and prevent harmful algae blooms. This remains chief among the reasons why an oyster grown in, say, Napeague Harbor will taste differently than one grown in Hog Creek, as will oysters grown within yards of one another in Peconic Bay.

The event begins at Peconic Landing in Greenport at 4 PM. Reservations are recommended by calling 631-765-5500. To find out more, visit the SHS website at www.southoldhistoricalsociety.org.


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