The Kings Oyster:
|Crowned for a year, Oyster King Adelle Pierce presides over the 22nd Annual Rotary of St. Marys Countys Oyster Festival.
photo by Bill Lambrecht
Heres the Finest Recipe in the Land
Whether to eat an oyster used to be the simplest question in Chesapeake Country. If you loved em, you ate em. If you didnt, you didnt.
Nowadays, its a question you can perplex yourself right out of oyster season debating. Should the few oysters our Bay has left be left alone to replenish the species and clean up the water? If we leave them be, might not MSX and dermo eat them before us? Whats to become of the poor waterman, himself an endangered species, if oyster lovers refuse the few bushels he scrapes up?
Ah, for the good old days, when choices were simple.
At the National Oyster Cook-Off in Leonardtown, those good old days return at least for a fall weekend each year. Not only are oysters rampant shucked, scalded, souped, fried or jarred. Theres even a king to command that they be eaten.
Its undeniable that Rotary of St. Marys Countys 2001 King Oyster is for the second time in the venerable festivals 22-year history a woman. Thats certain proof the monarchy of oysterdom is enlightened. So, when King Adelle Pierce says let oyster eating begin, who dares resist her?
Certainly not the judges pledged to choose the fairest oyster dish in all the land. Obediently, we tied on our bibs and ate all that was offered.
Which was plenty, for each year the St. Marys festival affords oyster aspirants opportunity to claim a crown of their own.
Competing are cooks from near and far cooks who claim Chesapeake oysters as their own as well as cooks from the flatlands, the mountains, the deserts, the far coast. All these aspirants have spent the past year dreaming of the most succulent, the most flamboyant, the most exotic, the most elaborate, the most alluring ways to gild the lily that is a Chesapeake oyster.
Their recipes have been studied, sampled and scrutinized. From the 200 submitted this year, the seafood section of Maryland Department of Agriculture selected 12 finalists.
With pots and pans and whisks, that dozen has descended on Leonardtown to vie for the championship. Now, one of the 12 will claim the grand prize. As well as honor, she or he will claim $1,000 and a silver tray for carrying home the reward.
But not until we four judges have eaten all they have to offer.
The day of the festival, oyster eating begins early. Outside the judges chambers, the smell of frying oil is already heavy on the clear fall air. Early-comers might down a dozen raw with their coffee.
Inside, the judges breakfast at 9am on Maryland oysters and flower petal stew, oysters and corn soup and Thai oyster chowder.
Lovely, says chief judge William Taylor, who has presided over the occasion for 21 years, of the category winner, Illinoisian Harry Cranes thick cream stew strewn with nasturtiums.
We brunch on oysters in champagne sabayon with wilted spinach; oyster Wellingtons with spinach pesto and red oil; and lime-spiked fried oysters with red pepper coulis.
This one will be hard to beat, says Anne Mackenzie, retired food columnist for The Aegis and another 21-year judge, of the hors doeuvres category winner: oyster Wellingtons. We were later to learn it was the masterpiece of Terry Ann Moore of Oaklyn, New Jersey, who had last year won another first.
We lunch on skewers of flambéed oysters, squid and mushrooms; grilled oysters Athena; and touch-of-Thai grilled oysters with mango salsa.
My, those are rich, and you can taste the feta, says judge Betty Wrenn Day, food editor of Virginias Gloucester/Mathews Gazette-Journal, of outdoors and salads category winner Dawn Browns oysters Athena. The Baltimorean topped oysters on the half shell with garlic, shallots, spinach and pine nuts and topped it off with a Béchamel sauce.
Next we dine on mama mia oyster casserole; creamed oysters in acorn squash; and oysters in the pink.
Even after so many oysters, these crepes are remarkably tasty, I comment of the main-courses winner, oysters in the pink by St. Marys own Sally Brassfield.
From all those, we chose oyster Wellingtons as the $1,000 dish fit for a king.
Heres how to make it yourself if you, too, find it in your heart to eat oysters this year:
The winners plus honorably mentioned recipes are assembled in an annual cookbook of 41 recipes. $4 from National Oyster Cook-Off, P.O. Box 653, DECD, Leonardtown, Maryland 20650.
Oyster Wellingtons with Spinach Pesto and Red Oil
- Sauté 1/4C each: diced carrot, celery, onion, red bell pepper and 1oz. shredded prosciuto in 1T olive oil; add 1/4C white wine and nearly evaporate. Season with fresh cilantro, salt and pepper
- Cut 2 Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry sheets into eight 4-inch rounds. On cookie sheet, top each round w/spoonful of sautéed veggies, 1/8 pint drained oysters, dollop of cream cheese. Top each w/pastry circle; seal well. Brush edges, top w/beaten egg. Sprinkle lightly w/finely chopped walnuts. Bake at 375 15-20 minutes or until puffed and deep golden.
- Pesto: Blend or process 1C spinach leaves; 2T chives; 1/2t lemon rind and 1t juice; 1 clove garlic, 1/3C walnuts, 2 T Parmesan. Drizzling in 1/4C olive oil.
- Red pepper oil: Heat 1/2C olive oil; 3T sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced; 1T tomato paste; 1t red pepper flakes to 180 degrees. Bottle and chill at least overnight. Strain.
- To serve: Drizzle red oil on a plate. Top with Wellington, pesto, fresh herbs, diced bell peppers.
The Winter Garden:
|Falcon Doss oyster corps include husband Dave Doss and father Richard Falcon.
photo by April Falcon Doss
Plant Oysters Now for a Spring Crop
Who wouldve thought 2,000 slimy spat could be so cute?
These babies will be my charges for the next nine months as I attempt to grow spat into oysters. Their foster home will be my fathers dock.
Now, at St. Michaels Maritime Museum, I was joining the newest generation of Marylands 800 oyster gardeners. In this Chesapeake Bay Foundation program, average Bay-dwellers like myself raise spat for a year, growing oysters to be transplanted to one of the Bays sanctuary reefs.
With 75 other novices, I was about to find out what it took to become an oyster gardener. Many, like us, had made it a family affair, with children ranging from teenagers on down to my son and a golden retriever puppy, both aged about eight weeks. Each of us had paid $75 to cover the cost of cages and spat. We considered it a small price for our own personal stake in saving the Bay.
It was $75 invested in both urgency and hope. Urgency because the Foundations 2001 report rates the health of the Bays oysters at a miserable two on a scale of 100. Hope because our amateur efforts were being bolstered by Congress vote this month to spend $5 million to help build oyster reefs and restock the Bay.
My own past encounters with oysters had to do with consuming rather than with replenishing. There was the sizzling oyster poboy Id eaten one summer, so succulent its juices dribbled from the corners of my mouth to my chin. The lusciously plump, cold oyster Id eaten raw the very instant it had been cut from its shell, fresh off the workboat on a stunningly warm afternoon.
But Id read stories about Captain John Smiths arrival in this Great Shellfish Bay. Its rivers were rendered non-navigable by giant oyster bars. Each oyster on those bars filtered 50 gallons of water per day, leaving the Bays waters so clean and clear that mariners could see all the way to the bottom.
Those stories were now coming to life for me as I learned that our local native species, the crassostrea virginica, grows up to eight inches long. Eight inches? I thought. Ive no more seen an eight-inch oyster than Ive caught an eight-inch blue crab in the pots we hang off the familys dock. Sadly, I suspect those mammoth shellfish where phenomena of the past.
For our cloistered oysters to stand a chance of regaining those huge lengths, we had to build cages to protect them, and that construction was a central part of todays mission. We had two options: a single large PVC-rimmed float or four wire mesh contraptions that look a bit like small crab pots.
Feeling handy enough for a do-it-yourself show, I bent wire mesh bare-handed, secured my seams with hog clips, and proudly carried my oysters new homes to the car along with two bags of shell, spat, and muck that had to be planted by 5pm.
Our cargo of 60 pounds of gunky oyster shells and spat are now spread inside their cages, safely tucked away below mean low tide for the long winter, when it will be my job to keep them safe from the ravages of flatworms and freezing air. Every so often, Ill rattle their cages, to loosen any sediment clogging them and to keep the oysters from growing embedded in the wire.
And, when nobodys looking, like any proud mother, Ill haul them up just to say hi and imagine their future.
April Falcon Doss
For Holidays, Annapolis Bags Parking Fees
Once again, Annapolis is playing Santa, tying up its meters in bags and bows as the citys gift to shoppers who, they hope, will say thanks by buying their gifts from downtown merchants.
Starting November 23, the day after Thanksgiving, and running through January 2, 2002, Annapolis treats visitors to free parking. Bagged and bowed meter heads dot City Dock, Market Space, Main Street, Francis Street, West Street, Maryland Avenue, Prince George Street and the Donner lot by Fawcetts on Compromise Street.
Most meters have a two-hour limit, and some are 15- to 30-minute gifts. Should your stay run long or the meters be occupied, the city runs a shuttle from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to downtown, charging 75¢ for the service.
Also hoping the gift of its Park and Shop program will lure you downtown is the Annapolis Business Association. Patronize a participating merchant and get Hillman or Gotts Court parking garage tickets validated for up to four hours of free parking.
|As king for 13 years, Henry VIII William G. Huttel reigned over his court at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and others.
photo courtesy of the Maryland Renaissance Festival
The King is DeadFor 13 seasons, the Maryland Renaissance Festival has opened with the words Make way for the King! Make way for the King!
And each August, hundreds of thousands followed his majesty and his court to a land of historic make believe.
Now, the Maryland Renaissance Festival has lost its king.
On November 12, 2001, William G. Huttel, 48, the man millions knew as Henry VIII of England, died of a massive heart attack.
Huttel also ruled Renaissance revival kingdoms in Florida and Ontario. He billed himself as The International Henry VIII, according to his cousin, Cathie Kline, and played the role to the hilt.
With his stature (6'7", girth 435 pounds), and red-died hair and beard, Huttel had a royal presence that commanded loyalty from all of his subjects.
At one festival, village lad Nat Taylor was surprised by the appearance of the king. Grief, mlady, he said. I could have lost my head if I didnt bow to the king!
At each Crownsville Festival, King Henry married, divorced or beheaded one of his six wives, so his volatility was well known.
The real life Bill Huttel was a different story.
The Gentle Giant was the most gentle man I have ever known, said long-time friend Kevin Stroud. There is not one human being in the world that has any negative thoughts about Bill Huttle, no one who didnt like him. I went to college and played football with him, and never once did he get angry or lose his temper. In fact, he was the perfect mediator.
Stroud also recalled how Bill Huttel touched the hearts and changed the lives of the many children whom he knighted at each event. He said, I wish you could have seen the awe in their faces as they were touched by this very gentle giant of a man.
Well known as he was as Henry VIII, Bill Huttel played other roles in Chesapeake Country. In Chesapeake Music Halls A Christmas Carol, he had portrayed the ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooges former boss. At Carrolls Creek Cafe in Eastport, he had acted a murder mystery. The Forestville giant also handled promotions and sound and light work for local productions, and he had managed the convention centers at Ocean City and Salisbury.
Some 400 people attended Huttles memorial service last weekend, Stroud said, and another 400 or 500 spread across the country would have liked to have been there.
At next years Renaissance Festival, thousands more will mourn the passing of this king.
In Hagerstown, the city wants mute swans rather than wanting to kill them. Contrary to advice from the state, the city council agreed last week to seek mutes for a local park. It should be easy to find them: European imports are the focus of an eradication campaign along the Bay because they damage vegetation
|Brought from Europe, mute swans out-muscle indigenous swans from their habitat and destroy submerged aquatic vegetation with their feeding habits.
In Washington, a member of Congress wants many Chesapeake Baysiders to be ready to take a pill. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced a bill last week requiring the government to stockpile potassium iodide in case of an attack on a nuclear plant that releases radioactivity. Markey says that people within 200 miles of a nuke plant thats us might need a pill to protect our thyroid glands, which are susceptible to radiation
In California, the Navy has dropped plans to build a practice bombing range at Big Sur after an outcry from conservationists, cattle ranchers and politicians. F/A-18 Hornets were going to fly about 3,000 sorties annually, but the Navy said last week theyll train elsewhere
In Cambodia, certain gastronomes were irked at a directive from the government to restaurants last week forbidding the serving of rare animals: tigers, bears and a dish we thought of serving for Thanksgiving: scaly anteater
Our Creature Feature comes from Britain, where kids who have trekked to Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone are suffering from what wed call Dalmatian Puppy Disease. After seeing 101 Dalmatians, many kids wanted one. Now, pet stores are flooded with calls asking about snowy owls. Animal experts say its a bad idea: They arent magical, cuddly or cheap (about $250), and they need a steady diet of small mammals. And kids might end up with a two-foot tall bird that doesnt like them.