The arrival of Labor Day and September in the United States heralds thoughts of fall, whether or not the summer temps have cooled. And though summer is known for its bounty of fruits and vegetables, fall brings its own flavors as well, with crops and seafood that arrive with the cooler temperatures.
Fall means oyster season. Though harvesting usually occurs during months that end in "r," weather and water temperatures determine the actual open and close of harvesting season for each state. Along most of the East Coast it begins mid-September. The mighty mollusk lives on the seabed in shallow coastal waters, which rapidly change in temperature and salinity in fall. There are more than 200 appellations of oysters in North America, with subtle changes in flavor determined by its growing environment in Atlantic or Pacific waters.
This fall, join coastal communities in celebrating the bivalve and its contribution to their local economies. On October 17-18, the town of Wellfleet on Massachusetts' Cape Cod hosts its yearly OysterFest, which includes not only consuming oysters to your heart’s desire, but also other local cuisine, arts and crafts, a free family area with kids' activities, an oyster shucking competition, kayak races, and outdoor concerts. The 52nd annual Urbanna Oyster Festival in Virginia will take place November 6-7, with nearly 75,000 people attending. The North Carolina Oyster Festival will celebrate its 29th year, also on October 17-18, with more than 45,000 people expected in Ocean Isle Beach for festival food and live entertainment. Be sure to try the competing stews at the Oyster Stew Cook-Off, or work off those extra calories during the 5K or 10K road race. Visit Chincoteague Island, Virginia, for the world’s only oyster museum, or Bluffton, South Carolina, for the Bluffton Oyster Company, the last remaining oyster company on the South Carolina coast.
Beach life calls for food and fun. Take advantage of this fall specialty and use it as an excuse for a gathering, even if warm weather is waning in your neck of the woods. Though you can eat oysters year-round, the best-tasting ones are those that have been recently harvested from local waters. And during the official season, oysters can provide an economical feast for a crowd. If you prefer your oysters roasted or steamed, rather than raw on the half-shell, plan to have an oyster roast over a grill or outdoor fire. Oysters can also be stewed, baked, broiled, fried, and dressed up with toppings and sauces.
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