All this talk about good Maine oysters prompts me to point out that oysters have a long and glorious history as early American fast food. Cities like Boston and New York in the early 1800s sported oyster vendors on the streets who sold freshly shucked oysters on the spot, or tossed them on a grill to roast them. Oyster saloons cranked out oyster stews in a jiffy – some butter, oysters sizzled until the edges curled, some hot milk, and a roll to go along side, and customers served in jig time.
Modern people are amazed to learn that oysters were packed in New England, fitted into containers that had an ice-filled liner and sent by rail to the West — Chicago, and even further, so popular were they.
In fact, eating oysters at all is pretty amazing. But humankind has been been doing it for millennia: witness the oyster shell heaps in Damariscotta: thousands of years of oysters-by-the-sea with Native populations trekking in annually to gather and eat and eat and eat. Almost anything looks more edible than an oyster, but there you have it. Oysters appear consistently in the top four or five favorite sea foods consumed by the mid-1700s, right alongside cod, salmon, and lobsters.
Sandy Oliver, Food Historian, Author, MF&L columnist: The Way Things Were