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Oyster box

She was picked up on the coast and sent to Rome, where she was very appreciated. The oyster bore the name of "calliblepharis", literally "beautiful eyelids", by the Romans because of the edges of its coat. Despite the Roman knowledge of oyster farming, the flat oyster was not cultivated in France at that time. Writings are preserved that certify the exploitation of natural deposits of flat oysters during the Middle Ages and until the Renaissance.

It is in the seventeenth century that a first oyster cultivation is developed in the deposits of the salt flats of the Atlantic coast, and later in the swimming pools built especially in the Marennes-Oléron region. The method consisted of collecting the oyster embryos on the rocks or dredging natural sites to later raise them in the pools.

fresh Oyster

In the 18th century, salt loses its main function as the currency it had acquired in the Middle Ages. This loss of the social and commercial importance of salt leads to the disappearance of its production, which leads to the release of numerous saline areas. The Atlantic coast, especially affected by this decision, now has tens of thousands of hectares of marshes. Conchilculture, and more in particular, ostriculture, will develop through the different marshes that would not be abandoned. Ostriculture, however, experiences a strong dependence on the embryos collected in the sea on the rocks or through drainage. Natural deposits are overexploited in this way and are depleted. In the 1850s, all French deposits were more or less affected by exploitation bans.

This is how modern ostriculture would be born. To avoid the decrease in the yields of the fishing of flat oyster embryos and the prohibitions of exploitation, the idea of submerging wooden poles to capture the embryos appears: collection with a collector is born.


Oyster gratin

To face the shortage of flat oysters, the Arcachoneses import from 1860 Portuguese oysters (Crassostrea Angulata). Chance has meant that this species also begins to populate our French waters and to be cultivated. In fact, in the 1860s, a ship in charge of delivering Portuguese oysters in Arcachon had to unload its merchandise in the Gironde estuary in order to cope as well as possible with the storm it was suffering.

This species, robust and resistant, grows quickly. It quickly impersonates the flat oyster on the Atlantic coast. In the 1900s, a third of flat oysters were captured compared to two thirds of Portuguese oysters.

Hit by massive mortalities in the 1920s, the flat oyster disappears almost completely. Initially located in the southwest, the Portuguese oyster is then introduced into all production pools. This was how in the 1960s, the production of Portuguese oysters represented almost 80% of production compared to 20% in the case of flat oysters.

However, in the 1970s, the Portuguese oyster experiences an epizootics that tithes it and causes its disappearance from the French coasts. The introduction of the Japanese hollow oyster (Crassostrea Gigas), native to the Pacific, as a result of this epidemic, allowed the resumption of the breeding of hollow oysters in France. This species is today the most cultivated oyster species in France and around the world.


The research project carried out by the New York Public Library on the menus savored in the Big Apple over the last few centuries is good proof of New York's passion for the humble mollusk.

NYC oyster

As surprising as it may sound, oysters were an essential piece of the New York diet, we could say their first fast food, long before the pizza, hot dogs or bagels arrived.

When in 1609 Henry Hudson sailed for the first time the river that would one day bear his name, the native Lenape Indians, who inhabited the area, had already been happily consuming gelatinous seafood for years. At that time they were not only abundant, but much larger than the current ones. They were up to 30 centimeters tall!

"The history of oysters in New York is the history of the city itself - its abundance, its strength, its excitement, its greed, its way of thinking, its blindness and even its dirt," this is how the writer Mark Kurlansky describes the phenomenon.

In his book The Big Oyster he recounts how, although it is estimated that at its peak New York Bay contained almost 90,000 hectares of oyster reefs (hosting about half of the world's oysters according to some biologists), its high consumption and pollution destroyed that ecosystem.

The fame of New York oysters became worldwide through the Dutch colonizers, who came to name the islands of Ellis and Liberty 'Little Island of Oysters' and 'Great Island of Oysters', respectively. In its day, both the pavement of Pearl Street and the foundations of Trinity Church and many other buildings in Manhattan were essentially composed of oyster shells.

Oyster Menu

Oysters were eaten by everyone, from the poorest to the richest, and they were found both in street stalls and in high-top restaurants.

Before the arrival of the 20th century, when people thought of New York, they inevitably thought of oysters, says Kurlsnaky, who describes a city seen as the world capital of the mollusk.

Travelers like Charles Dickens tasted their oysters and realized this reality. In 1790, the Frenchman Moreau de St. Mery commented that "Americans have a passion for oysters and eat them all the time, even on the street."

In addition to filtering the ocean water, oysters are very nutritious and rich in protein, phosphorus, iodine, calcium, iron and vitamins A, B and C.

However, the same passion for New Yorker oysters and their unsustainable consumption, in addition to the pollution of the city in full swing, meant that with the arrival of the 20th century the supply ended: New Yorkers had eaten up to the last oyster.

The reefs were dredged or covered with silt, and the water quality was too poor for biological regeneration, both of oysters and of any other organism. The port became a toxic and lifeless area for more than fifty years, until the Clean Water Act was passed, which prohibited the dumping of garbage and wastewater.

Although they continued to open oyster stalls in the city, the molluscs were no longer local. For nearly four decades, until 1972, bay oysters were no more suitable for consumption, and today efforts to regenerate the natural oyster population in the waters surrounding Manhattan continue.

One of these initiatives, The Billion Oyster Project, aims to repopulate the area with a billion live oysters by 2035 (to date they have successfully implemented 26 million). Their effort, along with that taste of New Yorkers for their oysters for a dollar, have made that love of yesteryear be gaining strength again.


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