I could give you an in depth history lesson of how the oyster is an integral part of the South Carolina lowcountry. This lesson would begin with the native American tribes and their shell rings, move on to tabby construction in colonial times, then lime kilns in the brick building industry. I could tell you how in 1657 a Spanish explorer documented how the Edisto Indians roasted oysters. I could tell you it’s good to eat oysters in any month with an “r” in it. But what I want to tell you is if you have an opportunity to go to a Lowcountry oyster roast take it.
Whether you have enjoyed fried oysters, oysters Rockefeller , or never had an oyster at all, you are in for a new experience. Eating a freshly steamed oyster is to taste the essence of the Lowcountry. Personally I think January is the best month for an oyster roast. It is something festive after the holidays and mid-oyster season. There is usually a bonfire and a big pot of chili as well as plenty of beer. The table, is a large board with a hole cut out in the middle resting on sawhorses. The hole is where you push your empty shells. Locally the shells are required to be recycled. On the table you will find saltines, cocktail sauce and hot sauce. The host may provide a shucking knife and gloves, but I have my own. Some folks use a towel instead of gloves.
The just steamed oysters are poured out onto the table and everyone digs in. I confess I could stand there for hours. It is a bit like potato chips, you can’t eat just one. I like the challenge of a cluster, even getting out the tiny ones. I enjoy the small ones with a drop or two of hot sauce and the larger ones on a saltine. Watch and you will see all kinds of methods. Experiment until you find the one for you. Then stand around the table shucking and socializing with the other oyster lovers until you get your fill or your wrist get’s tired. Then indulge in some chili by the fire.
Here are a few tips I have learned over the years. It is worth it to have your own knife and gloves or towel. I have a very affordable one with a plastic handle, although like any southern girl worth her salt, I want one with my monogram on the handle. Take a Ziploc baggie to put your wet, muddy gloves and knife in. If you are anything like me, your clothes will get wet from bellying up to the table, plan to throw them in the wash as soon as you get home, you don’t want to leave it until the morning, that includes the gloves. Oysters are good to eat, not so pleasant to smell.
An oyster roast is a bright spot in the drab of winter. There are many organizations that hold them, selling tickets, most raising money for charity. However my favorite ones are held in someone’s backyard with people you know and love. In that moment that you are savoring the salty morsel out of the rough shell, laughing and connecting with the people you hold dear, the warmth of the lowcountry flows through you leaving the chill of winter out in the cold.