Ode To The Oysters Of Apalachicola Poem by Sidi Mahtrow

Ode To The Oysters Of Apalachicola

These ugly looking lumps of calcium carbonate,
Unlike their cousins that collectors take.
Have a name known far and wide
As Apalach Oysters. ‘Tis said with pride.

No other Oysters hold a candle,
To those grown in Florida's panhandle.
The Bay's are large ‘n sweet;
Known at the Bar as Nature's treat.

Growing in clusters in the shallow, briny sea,
God's gift to man is not too difficult to see.
They're close-by, not too far from shore,
Waiting to be harvested in quantities, galore.

Produced each summer by hermaphodites true,
Spat are produced by millions, on cue.
To find some structure for support and protection,
Another lump of Oysters is the best selection.

Salt water and fresh in just the right blend,
Gives a unique taste to the liquid within.
Brackish water is the best Oyster environment,
Which yields a flavor, Heaven sent.

Temperature's important, but Oysters don't mind,
If it gets cold in the North you'll find.
Oyster lovers raving ‘bout the fruit of the sea,
Oysters do quite nicely, as salt water don't freeze.

Unlike fish, whose gills must have an active flow,
Of water, for Oysters it's just not so.
Llong as they're wet, they'll manage,
Too deep and at high tide, they're at disadvantage.

Tho' above water they can survive;
It's clearly best if the bed in which they're alive,
Is below the surface at high tidal flows,
Only unusual tides n' winds, are they exposed.

A supply of sunshine is required to grow rampant,
As Oysters feed on water borne, minuscule plants.
And other nutrients must be found,
For the Oyster t' grow and abound.

Located in the bend of Florida, Apalach bay's,
Rich waters flow by night and by day.
Bathing the Oyster in just the right combination,
To yield one of God's delights, since creation.

The Oyster beds weren't discovered by chance,
Indians long knew of the abundance.
Great heaps of shells remain,
Where they were tossed in joyous refrain.

Settlers added to the piles, with annual migrations,
From Georgia of families and other minions.
Coming during the summer months to feast,
Upon smoked fish, Oysters and other beast.

Yes, the Oysters an ugly lump of shell(s) ,
But inside's shiny pearl on which it dwells.
Until tasting Apalach Oysters, you don't realize,
Shell fish, like all plants and animals specialize.

Oysters, live snugly, in beds ‘neath the water.
Where they're located does really matter.
Beds known locally as bars, they are named,
By the locals, then regulated by Fish and Game.

Oyster beds are just a pile made of shell,
Loosely glued together as they dwell.
Older Oysters of course are deep within the pile,
And spat and settle on top after a while.

With time they all grow above the clay and sand,
Some Oysters may be bigger than your hand.
That's the Oyster, not the shell,
In which the Oyster him/herself does dwell.

The way Oysters are taken in Apalachicola Bay,
Requires a flat bottomed boat poled by day,
Over the water above the Oysters,
Where they reside in building clusters.

Tongs like garden rakes on steroids, joined in sets,
With oak handles as long as man can gets,
Hinged, teeth facing. You can open their incisors,
They work like closing a pair of scissors.

Wooden handles as long as ten feet or twelve,
Gives a good reach to probe and delve.
The handles actually are to apply leverage,
As well as search in the bay's briny beverage.

Close the handle together, and 'walk' them up,
Haul out the oysters, in their toothen cup.
The handles help balance th' Oysters.
As you struggle to get them from th' moisture.

Aboard the boat, Oysters are dumped in a heap,
The tongs being returned to the briny deep.
For another feeling and sounding,
There's no telling what you'll be finding.

Clumps of oysters are struck with sharp blows,
Separating them from their traveling fellows.
Object is to break the cluster pell-mell,
Without shattering the hard, ugly shell.

A bit of iron of most any description,
Is used to meet the boatman's prescription.
Perhaps rebar from a construction site,
Or a fabricated one ‘s the man's delight.

Sorting Oysters is quick and ease.
Hand size; keep it if it please ye.
Toss it in th' waiting croaker sack
A tow-sack for Oysters, in which to pack.

The sack's hung over a drywall-bucket's top,
Efficiency's the word in this floating shop.
The bucket has holes in its bott'm,
Water drains out, that for certain.

When the sack's full, heave it out.
A wire tie's then twisted about.
That's about a ha' bushel,
Not too bad for a few minutes tussle.

It may contain ten dozen or so,
And sells for perhaps ten dollars, or mo.
A bushel will sell for forty dollars, at best,
Depends on the season and the harvest.

State law says there must be on each bag,
Where-from the Oysters, a special tag.
Tags look like those on sacks of livestock feed,
Are printed in town when there's a need.

Th' shops about a block from the bay,
Tags are printed for a long time just this way,
Letters cast and type's set as it was turn of centur,
No place for progress in this man's adventure.

The printer grudgingly gives a demonstration,
That is; print a tag for your education.
You know it interferes with his friendly group,
Of locals assembled; for the bull which to shoot.

But, back to the Oysters from the briny soup,
Why do Oyster 'fishermen' do-it?
Some make fifty - seventy thousand on the fly.
For others it's a hobby to just get by.

Never will you mistake an eastern Oyster batch,
For a scissor-bill or a fantail from Apalatch.
Scissor-bill's best for cooking, while for slurpin',
Fantail's fat, juicy and just good lookin'.

No need to mention the Western shell-fish,
Or, th' Chesapeake ones served on a dish.
They're best for stew, where spices and potatoes,
As they're inferior, best kept ‘em in the shadows.

Oysters are best right from the bay,
But if they must, they can be kept in an icy way,
For weeks before they go 'fresh' to the letter.
Remember, fresher's definitely not better.

Respectable places that offer Oysters will,
Open them on the spot for your stomach to fill.
If served on those fancy china plates or pewter,
Send them back, tastebud's deserve much better.

Likely came from a house for Oyster shuckin',
When put in little plastic tubs. There's no tellin',
They're good for turkey stuffing maybe,
But for slurpin, leave them be.

Ingenious Indians smoked Oysters to preserve her,
And were probably among the first to discover,
The Oyster shell 'pops' open when heated,
It's easier to get at the tasty Oyster therein seated.

Not everyone can break an Oyster open,
By twisting with a knife, or other weapon.
But those who know the tricks of opening em,
Can shuck faster than ten people can eat them.

With a swoop of the left hand,
A prime Oyster is pulled from the pan,
And against a lead block it's firmly backed, .
As the 'opener' is about to begin the attack.

A short, thick bladed knife with rounded point,
Is aimed at a spot not far from the joint.
Positioned just next to the hinge,
Enters a bit and with a twist; the Oyster opens.

Where to put the point experience makes.
No wasted motion or effort it takes.
A swoop across bottom and top is the drill,
Being careful those precious juices, not to spill.

From the still unopened Oyster,
Saving every bit of moisture.
The blade having cut the muscles inside,
Then the top shell can be tossed aside.

It takes about five seconds when all is right!
In juices rich in salt and other gustatory delights,
Shines the Oyster plump and bright,
Like a good egg, yoke rising above the white.

It swims in juice of its own making.
The shell to the mouth is ready for takin',
With a quick noisy slurp, Oyster and sauce,
Disappear. Remaining is a half-shell to be tossed.

Some munch on crackers, which they call a sled,
Other with hot sauce or horseradish they wed.
Or eat hard-boiled eggs, I know not th' reason,
Oysters are all you need when they're in season.

What of the story of oysters in season and out.
It was before refrigeration that this came about.
Much better to keep them cool and safe,
Otherwise they're fresh and there goes the taste.

It‘s true that the Oyster changes with the season,
And here's my explanation or reason.
Reproduction causes changes in their interior,
But by no means is the Oyster's inferior.

Spat as the free swimming Oysters are known,
Iinterferes, not, in swallowing them down.
Other times they're a bit thin in the inside sauce,
That's when the spat's gone, no great loss.

Red tide's death to fish, that don't have nine lives,
But the Oyster just hunkers down and survives.
The reason for closing Oyster beds to harvestin',
Is to benefit the consumer, not Oyster and kin.

On eating Oysters, everyone get a massive dose,
Of misinformation up close.
Restaurants on doors, windows and menus too,
Warn against Oysters, if its your life you value.

Never mind that the warning is intended,
For some whose pleasures suspended.
Disorders of liver, stomach or blood,
For diabetics and others raw Oysters ain't good..

O.K., they've been told, Oysters not to eat,
But must others be denied this briny treat?
And really, do we have to tell them over and over,
If afflicted, they may not recover.

Why terrorize the public against a safe foodstuff?
If a restaurant failed to post this advertising puff.
And someone gets sick, here come the lawyers.
They'll get there before the pall bearers.

It's a bit like the peanut scare.
One shouldn't eat peanuts in public if they care.
Someone allergic to peanuts might dropp dead,
How would you like that as a price on your head?

For that one or two 'potential' fatalities,
Some three hundred million have responsibilities.
Those allergic to oysters r'on their best behavior.
You're not to be their savior.

John Lawson, wrote in Seventeen O one,
The Oysters as being best as ate alone.
'very good Shell-Fish, and so large, half a dozen,
enow to satisfy an hungry Stomach.' of a denizen.

Further evidence of the delights of Oyster eat'n,
Is in Hudibras by Samuel Butler writin'.

'In Moore's Travels into the inland parts of Africa, page fifty four,
We read: 'This evening, December 18,1730, (And there's more)
I supped upon Oysters which grew upon trees,
Down the river (Gambia) where the water is salt, and near the sea.

The river is bounded with trees called mangroves,
Whose leaves being long and heavy weigh the boughs,
Into the water. To these leaves,
The young Oysters fasten in great quantities.

Where they grow till they are very large; (as they pleas')
And then you cannot separate them from the tree,
But are obliged to cut off the boughs (as you would bunions):
The Oysters hanging on them resemble a rope of onions.'

So Whether you gather your fruit from bar or tree,
Harvesting Oysters is whatever you wish it to be.
Traveling, far an wide or just to Apalachicola
Depends on just what your life goals are.

But if it's eatin', you have in mind,
Then Plump Apalach's you should find.
For you see, raw Oysters are a treat any day,
Just belly up to the bar, enjoy and stay!

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