Delicious NJ Oysters and their Pearls
Did you know about the yummy oysters we have here at the Jersey Shore this summer? Ripe for chowing down on…but will you find a pearl inside?
Were you ever told to only eat oysters during months with the letter “R?” That would mean no eating oysters this month or next, so I’m glad this is FALSE advice. Thankfully, you can now enjoy a delicious plate of freshly shucked oysters.
That old advice from the past should now be forgotten. Today, oysters are served year round and everyone enjoys them just fine. So how did that outdated directive come about?
Well, back when oysters were harvested from the wild, that advice was true and good for consumers, the shellfish industry, and even the oysters themselves. You see, oysters spawn (reproduce) in summer. So leaving them alone during “R-less” months used to let oysters reproduce in peace. This helped sustain their population and the shellfish industry. And, in preparation for spawning, wild oysters turn mushy and some say less tasty. And also, before the days of reliable refrigeration, it wouldn’t have been safe to eat anything raw that had been baking on a boat or a dock all day during the warm summer months.
But now modern-day oyster farming, strict regulations, and scientific research have made it safe for us to enjoy delicious oysters year-round. Besides improved handling practices and strict consumer protections, scientific research has developed oysters that are disease resistant and non-reproducing (like seedless watermelons and cucumbers.) These farmed oysters never spawn, so they don’t get ‘mushy’ during the summer. And our state is producing some very delicious specimens like Cape May Salts.
Much of the research that transformed the eastern oyster into a year-round delight was conducted, and is still being conducted, right here in NJ by Rutgers University scientists, with the support of New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium.
So…what about pearls? First of all, natural pearls are extremely rare so don’t expect to find one on your next seafood platter. Pearls form inside an oyster when a foreign substance like a bit of sand or a parasite slips in between the oyster’s body and its shell. This is uncomfortable for the tender oyster, so it covers the irritant with multiple layers of nacre, or mother of pearl, the same substance it used to build its shell. This eventually forms a pearl. Nacre is similar to saliva, so you could say a pearl is just one very good looking spitball!
So….still wish you had a pearl necklace or bracelet?