Oysters have a place in America’s heart – The Denver Post

Several years ago, in Seattle, in the course of one evening, I ate 60 oysters.

I was working on a story for a magazine on ales and oysters — which ones tasted best with which ones (porters and stouts came out well) — so I visited five of the city’s brewpubs and ate a dozen of the mollusks at each.

I was certain that, statistically alone, I would sicken overnight, but that did not happen. My hotel was Seattle’s Alexis and, in the morning as the sunlight streamed through the soaring windows of my room like rays waterfalling into a cathedral, I woke on my back and felt like Sigourney Weaver’s character in the original “Ghostbusters,” Zuul, floating her off her bed.

My limbs never had felt so light.

I thought that I had read somewhere that Asian apothecaries sell powdered dried oyster meat for joint or arthritis pain, but that proved to be a pharmaceutical myth. But if that’s what 60 oysters will do for a body, bring them on.

Oysters grow on ocean coasts the globe over. No need exists anymore to attend to buying them during months in which the name includes the letter “R.” For us, those months are generally the coldest of the year and allow for both the tastiest growing and the safest shipping conditions.

However, that was the line when air transportation did not allow for the speedy import of oysters from an opposite hemisphere. (Anyway, get them while they’re, well, not hot, for as with all foods now growing in warmer temperatures, that will change.)

It’s astounding to note the popularity of oysters in this country between the War of Independence and the heyday of the Western Expansion. Writers of all sorts and from all parts of the nation tell stories of the shipping paths of oysters from colder sections of the country to its inland reaches; of oyster parlors and saloons that resembled speakeasies; of all manner of uses of oysters in cooking from
plain to fancy.

In 1895, some 170 million pounds of oysters were consumed across the U.S. That is down to around 40 million pounds today, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Pell’s Oyster House, hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, operated in downtown Denver for more than 50 years, from the late 1800s until 1937. For that, bless the Transcontinental Railroad, sturdy oak barrels, ice and oatmeal for keeping the bivalves alive for days.

Oyster cookery was more popular in this country until the 20th century when a taste strongly developed for raw oysters on the half-shell. Nothing wrong with the latter, as I would be first to attest, but getting back to cooking with oysters is redolent of our common past when, in a way of thinking about it, one of our early regional cuisines — that born of coastal aquaculture — also became one of our truly first national cuisines.