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Meet the new Carolina Cups, a singular take on our briny oyster clusters
As sure as it’s a low tide in December up along Bulls Bay, in the creeks around Wadmalaw, and over on the Folly River, oystermen are pulling wild clusters from beds on the tide-washed banks. Brought back to the docks, washed, and shoveled into bushel bags, the briny, cold-weather catches are ideally sold within hours, destined for outdoor roasts and white-tablecloth restaurants.
This year, there should also be some new singles on the scene. Thanks to the labor-intensive experimenting by longtime oystermen like Bill Livingston at Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood in McClellanville, the local catch also includes cultured single oysters, what some are calling “Carolina Cups.” They’re the same oysters, but they’re manually kept from clustering—instead growing horizontally and sometimes subtidally. The results are singles that often have more of a cupped bottom than the “knife blade” shape of the clusters.
Chaz Green, who works with Stella Maris Seafood, a longtime wholesaler that started a retail business this fall, describes the local “cups” as being more flavorful and rare than the ubiquitous oysters from the Gulf. They’re also big, but not too big. “Like that sole good-size one you’ll get on a cluster,” he says. “A perfect bite.”
- The Lowcountry connection to oysters is deep. In Awendaw, mounds of oyster shells collected by Sewee Indians are estimated to be more than 4,000 years old.
- Oysters found in the Lowcountry are Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginicus) and grow about an inch annually.
- This year’s season opened on October 1 and runs through May 15, 2010.
- Eleven public oyster beds are open this year in Charleston County. To try recreational harvesting, you’ll need a S.C. Saltwater Recreational Fishing License, which costs $10 for residents and is available at sporting goods stores, tackle shops, or http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/license.html.
- After a roast, take the shells to one of 16 oyster shell drop-off sites, and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources will return them to the natural reefs. http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/oyster.html
Photographs (Carolina Cups) by Peter Frank Edwards; (bushel) by Sandy Lang