Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Taste of Home

Ah, oysters...

My daughter, son-in-law, and fabulous toddler grandbaby came out to the island for 4th of July to join my mom and me.
On the 5th, Laurel and I went to the island farmers market for sensational raspberry scones and then drove off-island to an oyster farm just outside of Allyn. All that were left were some small ones--not the petite and elusive native Olympias, just small. We bought two dozen.

That evening son-in-law Ronny dug a shallow fire pit by the new cabin, lined it with pea gravel since our sandy soil doesn’t provide many rocks, and we took the oven racks out of the stove to make a grill. He laid the little oysters right on the racks. As they opened over the coals from a fir and cedar fire, he shucked them and put them in a saucepan of melted butter. The oyster liquid blended with the butter and reduced to a compelling sauce, which we poured over the potatoes we had baked in foil on the same coals.

I’m not hard to please when it comes to oysters, but these were exceptional. We stopped talking as we ate them. The flavor was so intense and so wonderful that it took all our attention. Little Hailey, having the first bite of oyster in her 14 months of life, widened her big gray-blue eyes even bigger and reached for more.

That night in bed I began a book--part memoir, part manual--by Wendy Johnson, who farms at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Northern California. While talking about the seeming conflict between the Buddhist goal of non-attachment and the value of staying put, living and working on a piece of land for so long that we know it in our bones, she told a story:

“A Sonoma gardening friend told me that early in his garlic career, Chester (Aaron) was given a variety of heritage garlic cloves by Seed Savers Exchange. He grew them all, but to the delight of his gardening mentors he kept selecting the same garlic variety, time after time, as the absolute best.

The Seed Savers keyed out the garlic and found it was from the Republic of Georgia. “It’s from Tochli—a—Tochlia—" “Not Tochliavari? Interrupted Chester, suddenly full of life. “Yeah, that’s it—Tochliavari,” they answered, surprised at Chester’s animation. It turned out that although Chester was born and raised in New York City, all his people, from his father to his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, hailed from the small, remote region of Tochliavari in the Republic of Georgia.
... Much depends on staying in one place long enough for the voice of the watershed where you live to claim you in its own tongue.”

That passage made me think about the absolute rightness of the taste of those oysters. My great-grandfather, a Mr. Booth, came from northern England in the 1880s and fetched up right near Allyn in Mason County, where he carpentered and farmed oysters when he wasn’t prospecting unsuccessfully for Yukon gold. Except for some forays for schooling and travel, my grandmother, mother, and I have all stayed within the reach of those Case Inlet waters ever since.

I don’t know if I could select that particular oyster taste out of the pack each time, the way Chester Aaron did with his Tochliavari garlic, but I would be more than happy to try.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Aaron was born and raised in North Butler, Pennsylvania, not in New York City.