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Brook's The Oyster

The Godfather of oyster culture.


A cluster of wild oysters.

MAR 14, 2024 | BY NICK NORTHERN


THE JUICE:

It’s early summer, 1879, and young biologist William K. Brooks steps onto a wharf in the Eastern Shore town of Crisfield, Maryland. He recently departed Baltimore via steamboat on assignment for his employer, the fledgling Johns Hopkins University. His mission; make a name for himself and the young institution applying academic science to correct mismanagement of fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay, notably - oysters. 


Ultimately, using only a mason jar and his trusty microscope, Brooks uncovered the secrets of bivalve babymaking. Like a medieval alchemist, he determined we could, in fact, reproduce and farm oysters. His research would forever change the oyster industry and offset the calamity it had faced for decades.


THE SQUEEZE:

I’ve recently launched into a vision quest. I’ll dub myself an experimental enthusiast, but I have aspirations for aquaculture. Particularly, oyster farming. To understand and educate myself on all things oyster, I’ve scoured the internet for material. What I’ve found is that most oyster content shucks. Brooks’ The Oyster: A Popular Summary of a Scientific Study, is a glaring exception.


The title is fit for a Wes Anderson film, and it reads like a novel versus academia. The prose is artful, even in the face of its sometimes apocalyptic descriptions. The Oyster is both an advanced biological text and critical review of seafood management in the Chesapeake Bay. The craziest takeaway is many of Brooks’ criticisms on laws and regulatory practices in the 1800s still exist today. It’s an eye-opening piece of Mid-Atlantic history that is overlooked. And if you’re a weirdo like me, you might just think it’s cool.


The cover of The Oyster book.

Because of its cultural significance it’s considered public domain in the good ol’ US of A, and as such you may freely copy and distribute it because no one owns it. In other words, this thing is important enough to defy capitalism. I downloaded it for free. For oyster lovers, history buffs, conservationists, biologists, or aspiring aquaculturists, I highly suggest it. You don’t have to be from the Mid-Atlantic, or even care about oysters, to appreciate its relevance. I’ll leave you with a quote:


“The Chesapeake Bay is one of the richest agricultural regions of the earth, and its fertility can be compared only with that of the valleys of the Nile and the Ganges and other great rivers. It owes its fertility to the very same causes as those which have enabled the Nile Valley to support a dense human population for untold ages without any loss of fertility; but it is adapted for producing only one crop, the oyster.”


P.S. - I recently discovered the joys of pairing whiskey and oysters. Pro tip - when eating them on the half shell, slurp a smidge of the oyster liquor and replace it with whiskey or scotch before taking the whole thing down. The end result is a chef’s kiss and a slight buzz.



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