Pearls in the Sand

For­ag­ing for oys­ters with my daugh­ter yielded a trea­sure trove of good food and good times.


here we live in the coun­try, you can sur­vive most of the warm months with­out ever en­ter­ing a chain su­per­mar­ket. Farm stands and fam­ily-owned sea­sonal stores are abun­dant. Since the cor­ner shop sells or­ganic milk, I went to a su­per­mar­ket twice this past sum­mer—to buy es­sen­tials like garbage bags and toothpaste.

To eat well on the eastern tip of the south fork of Long Is­land, New York, other­wise known as the Hamp­tons, you ba­si­cally need a trip to town hall and $1o to buy a year-long shell­fish li­cense. The to­tal time spent to be­come a le­gal scrounger like me is 20 min­utes.

This fall has been a boun­ti­ful sea­son for oys­ters, which should be plucked dur­ing the cooler months

Wthat end in the let­ter r. When you har­vest oys­ters, it’s best to have a plan. In the sum­mer, my 8-yearold daugh­ter, Feli­cia, and I scouted lo­ca­tions within 10 miles of our home. We checked back a hand­ful of times to make sure the oys­ters were still there. Un­like clams, oys­ters stay put in the sand, fil­ter­ing wa­ter and grow­ing big enough to throw into the stew pot.

Dur­ing the first week of Oc­to­ber, we har­vested at a lo­ca­tion that was a mere two blocks from our house. We threw the pad­dle­board in the car and, with a cou­ple of string back­packs, we were on our way.

We pad­dled just a bit into Hog Creek. Feli­cia stayed on the board, singing to any wildlife that would lis­ten, du­ti­fully putting each oys­ter into one of the bags. The for­ag­ing process lasted about 20 min­utes, and by the end I had at least two oys­ter feasts to pre­pare.

I wanted my fel­low har­vester, my part­ner in crime, to en­joy the seafood of her la­bor, so oys­ter stew was the first thing I made. Feli­cia adored it.

When we de­pleted our sup­ply, we took a day off and went fish­ing. With bam­boo poles in hand, she and I caught sev­eral blow­fish that we lightly fried and snappers that my mother smoked for us. When we ex­hausted our smoked snap­per sup­ply, we went back to har­vest more oys­ters.

I imag­ine some lo­cal hunters greatly re­duce their year-round food costs with large freez­ers full of veni­son and turkey. I haven’t worked my way up to that yet; I am too busy mas­ter­ing my oys­ter for­ag­ing skills.

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