In my previous life, I often wrote or edited items about over-the-top beauty treatments like a 24-karat gold hair straightener or caviar facials. It was always sort of a pleasure (and sort of hell) to test drive the treatments: If things went well, you walked away with a shiny mane, glowing skin, or a fresh coat of polish; if they didn't, you could be missing an eyebrow. Once again, I get to revert back to my beauty editor days with the arrival of oyster poop. Not nearly as smelly as oyster mud, but just as freaking gross, it is the brown, slimy ejection of growing oysters and I'm hoping that it'll do wonders for my skin. Because I am about to be swimming in it.
For now, the job is simple. Catie and I remove the silos from their spots on the upweller trough (ok, simple is an understatement: these beasts weigh about 60 pounds and are as awkward and angular as a giant, heavy box filled with water and poop can be) and pull them out of the water and onto the dock. The process sometimes requires both of us since we have to pull them up from a bent over position and slide them onto the dock without catching one on a toe. Once they're on the dock, each silo gets hosed down inside and out and tilted on its side, causing the oysters to slide down so we can hose off the screen underneath. The fresh water kills any bacteria from the poop and washes away the whole, filthy mess. But there's no easy way to hose down a square box filled with growing particles of sand. The misting water makes the tiny little oysters fly around -- one hit of the hose in the wrong direction can send hundreds of them scurrying up the side of the box. On top of it, oyster poop is thick and sticks to everything. It collects on the screen and sides of the box and when it sprays upwards, it sticks to clothes, hands, shoes, and, of course, faces.
Today, we finished cleaning out the silos and I looked down to find oyster poop all over my hands, cascading down my legs, and felt a splash or two in my hair. Catie, an old pro at tending the seeds, said just wait: "Once we start grading, you'll get covered head to toe. Literally. It gets everywhere."
As much as I look forward to that day, I'm still undecided on the benefits of oyster poop on the skin. My hands are cracked and dry and my hair looks like it's been doused in lemon juice and left frying in the sun. Maybe a few pats of oyster poop can clear that up? I'll keep you posted.
I had the chance to see our process through someone else's eyes last Friday when my friends Jenn, Max, and Michelle came to the farm for a visit. We went out to the float where they hung out with the crew as we did our CWB routine and later, killed some time eating fresh oysters off the back. Afterward, Berg took us back to the dock where I showed them the upwellers and our babies before heading over to Snug Harbor Fish Co. for some lobster rolls and crab cakes.
Talking them through the process made me aware of just how much I've picked up on the farm. I walked them through the whole process, from seed to farm to float and actually felt like I knew what I was talking about. Wouldn't have been so easy two months back. But somehow, despite my previously empty knowledge base, I've managed to understand how our babies go from a twinkle in the eye to the sweet and meaty oysters we serve in restaurants every day.
Of course, I'm still a fan of standing at the raw bar and shucking like we did at the Harpoon Brewery's Summer Session over the weekend. After days and days of looking at gnarly, rough-edged shells, it's fun to open a couple hundred and watch oyster freaks get excited. I always manage to slurp back a few at these events and just like that, every ache, pain, and bruise disappears. We shucked in the brewery's VIP room and while we didn't get creamed like we did at the Nantucket Wine Fest, it was clear that our oysters and Harpoon beer make a harmonious pair.
And, a quick plug for the farm: The new Island Creek website is up and running. There are some great pics of my crew hauling cages down to the water. Take a look around and if you're hungry, buy some 'sters.