There is no question in my mind that I have indeed considered the oyster lately. Two things have prompted this mild obsession: a recent visit to St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (once known for its famous Chincoteague Salts) and finally getting around to reading M.F.K. Fisher’s classic Consider The Oyster published in 1941.
I’m not particularly fond of oysters, but I am very fond of M.F.K. Fisher. Here is a woman ahead of her time: Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) wrote about food and cooking before it was all the rage, and she did it with style and substance; she made writing about food a literary art.
Consider The Oyster is a slim collection of twelve essays having to do with oysters, and I must say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. Fisher begins with the biological, delves into the cultural, weaves in stories, and manages to keep it all culinary and very conversational. There are, of course, many recipes (which I found rather fascinating because of how seamlessly they are woven into the writing and what they reveal about how people cooked and how they wrote down recipes; so much personality is in these old recipes that I don’t seem to find in cookbooks nowadays). There is oyster stew, oyster soup, oyster stuffing, oyster Rockefeller, creamed oysters, fried oysters, and the most charming section on Fisher’s own mother reminiscing about something called oyster loaf.
Because I was reading the book about oysters at the time I was visiting St. Michaels, I couldn’t help but notice oyster bars and oyster traps and oyster tins and oyster shells used for interior decoration (there were mirrors framed in oyster shells and oyster globes and oyster trees and so on…). And then there were the oyster plates.
I have had my eye on oyster plates for years (they are oddly attractive and it should not come as a surprise to find out that oyster plates were popularized by the Victorians, for who else would insist on a beautiful work of art to serve these rather unsightly delicacies on), but because I don’t eat them or serve them, I have never owned an oyster plate of my own.
Then, it just so happened, that we were having lunch at Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin when I spotted a lovely brochure on the table with pictures of oyster plates and a brief history of the plates and their connection to the Eastern Shore and a plea to take the time to notice the Inn’s oyster plate collection on display in the main dining room.
Well, long story short, while I became determined to see the plates and have my husband take photographs of the plates as inspiration to begin my own collection, this was not in the cards. According to the maître d (whom I finally asked about the plates after searching high and low), the current owner had them removed and boxed up and put away. When I mentioned the lovely brochure describing the plates, the baffled maître d offered to go and get the boxes and unpack the plates so that I could see them.
Of course we would not think of putting him out like that, so we never saw the plates, but I am even more determined to begin my own collection. And perhaps the book I am meant to write after all should be titled: Consider The Oyster Plate.
(And please don’t get me started on oyster white and all its gorgeous possibilities—an oyster white kitchen, an oyster white blouse, or oyster white table linens…)