view counter

Oysters Meet Their Shuckers

All you can eat plus sides of local culture at the Deale Volunteer Fire Department’s Oyster Roast

With a toothpick set in the corner of his mouth, Kenny Wilde offers up jive with fresh-shucked oysters.
    “The toothpick helps to keep a cigarette out of my mouth,” says Wilde, K-MAN to his followers.
    Wilde works construction most days, though he still holds a Tidal Fishing license so he can harvest oysters. “I went out a few times this fall,” he says. “Enough to remind me it’s hard work.”
    Shucking those oysters is not as hard as collecting them from the Bay. But it’s “not something you want to do full time,” Wilde says. Nor is there enough demand to do it as your only job. “I love shucking,” he says. But there are not many events left where he can show off his skill.
    Even in a town like Deale, where the Guinness World Record for oyster eating was set, there’s not much call for shuckers.
    “It’s a dying art,” says Gayle Moreland, organizer of the twice-yearly Deale Volunteer Fire Department Oyster Roast.
    Wilde accepts that oystering as we’ve known it is fading. But he sees a future in aquaculture. If he’s right, expert shuckers — able to wield the knife to serve oysters on the half shell free of shell fragments — will still be needed.

“The toothpick helps to keep a cigarette out of my mouth,” says Kenny Wilde.

    Working alongside Wilde to supply the lines of eaters of raw oysters will likely be Buzzy France, whose boyhood summers on the Bay in Deale brought him to the village full-time in the late 1970s.
    “A sharp knife is key,” says France.
    He learned the art of shucking from his father and passed it down to his son.
    France’s son Bobby also volunteers at the Deale oyster roasts. He was shy about trying his skill in public until recently. Now he checks with his father, eager to be part of the scene and show off the culture.
    “There were people who came last fall who brought younger members of their family,” Bobby says. “I’d like to see the interest in oystering continue through the generations.”
    The unofficial head of the Deale shuckers is Bud Marshall. In a lifetime in Deale, he has seen plenty of history unfold. In the 1960s, The Shanty — a Skipper’s Pier predecessor on the same site — was the place to go for shucked oysters and crabs. Back then, the price of admission to the oyster roasts was $3, which included oysters, salads, desserts and beverages. Nowadays, a similar ticket costs $45, still a good deal.
    Marshall’s father was a waterman and a member of the Deale Volunteer Fire Department. He recalls his father shucking oysters on weekends at The Shanty and for oyster roasts. Continuing the family tradition, young Marshall also volunteered as a fire fighter and a shucker at the annual roasts.