Learning to Shuck Oysters at 55By Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
Main image by Tommaso Cantelli on Unsplash
7 January 2022
I am a bit of an Omnivore, in that I eat everything, and always have done.
I have never been a fussy eater, I have a great appetite (which I didn’t lose even when I had gastroenteritis, aged about 14), and I truly relish food. And, yes, while I might feel squirmy and squeamish if invited to eat something like rabbit’s eyes or monkey brain, I have tried pretty much everything that’s come my way, and almost invariably liked it. Yes, even witchetty grubs in Australia. And weirder stuff in China. Of course, I don’t love “everything” – and you won’t often find me eating refined or processed foods. I prefer healthier, more natural food. But on balance, I am an Omnivore, or at least Flexitarian.
And, like many people, I am endeavouring to eat in a more sustainable way, as local & organic as possible. And I am in a relationship with a man who has been vegetarian – with vegan tendencies – for over 35 years. Inevitably, these past years, my level of cognitive dissonance has been mounting.
Yes, I make plenty of vegetarian and vegan food. I can go for days, even weeks, without eating a morsel of meat or fish (though my cheese consumption goes through the roof when I abstain fully). There comes a point, though, where I hanker for some good fish, Thai curry made with actual chicken, or yummy Indian lamb curry. I feel better, I do better, my body does better, I sleep better, I do sport better, when I eat animal protein that has come from things that have given their life to me.
Nevertheless, for environmental and relationship reasons, my animal protein (save cheese) consumption has reduced drastically these past years. And before Medjool came into my life, I was catering for Julia who was vegetarian then vegan her last years.
Early in 2022, I had reason to do some extensive blood testing, and my results came back with some alarming mineral deficiencies, as well as indication of Hashimoto Thyroiditis – low thyroid functioning. My GP looked at me, eyebrows raised, and asked: “Aren’t you feeling tired?” (err… yes, because I don’t sleep much or well, and I lie awake thinking about and missing too many dead people…. But I have always slept poorly…this has been the case for decades, so no more than usual, and it doesn’t stop me doing anything I want to). Next she asked, “Don’t you feel cold in your extremities?” (err… yes – but again, this has always been the case – my fingers go white with numbness, even in July and August. I have Raynaud’s … but I know how to warm back up). Finally she asked if I had put on weight. Nope. Apart from pregnancies, my weight has been pretty much the same since I was 20 years old.
As doctors are wont to do, she suggested I go on medication, but because I didn’t feel any of the symptoms strongly, or worse than at other times in my life, I asked if we could wait and simply track it a bit. So every couple of months I would do more testing. The results came back worse each time. My GP pushed for me to go on medication, but I still didn’t want to because I didn’t feel like I was struggling with anything. Yes, I can feel tired, but my energy levels are invariably high and I feel strong and fit. And I have been working on improving my sleep. Which makes zilch difference to tiredness, it has to be noted.
I proposed that I see a naturopathic practitioner to see what alternative approaches I might try. My GP is very amenable and said yes, so long as I stayed in touch. So I went to a woman I had seen in the past, just after Mike died, armed with my blood test results.
We spent an hour going over things – she knew my history, losses, age, hormonal status, sleeping, eating and drinking habits. After hearing me out, she said she was going to list some foods, and wondered if I liked them, and/or would consider eating them. She asked, rather tentatively, “do you like Oysters? Chicken liver? Black pudding?”
Yes, Yes and more Yes!
Foods that Mike and I indulged in – if not exactly often, at least from time to time.
When we went out to a certain kind of French bistro, Mike would scan the menu to see if there was a “Salade de foies de volaille”, and if there was, choose it.
Occasionally, when the kids were still little and they ate before us, we might make them one thing, then make ourselves some liver.
As for boudin noir/black pudding – it was a staple in both of our childhoods. My mum made it quite often when we were growing up in Brussels, and it was another of the things that Mike and I would select at restaurants from time to time when we saw it proposed.
And Mike was THE Oyster platter preparer extraordinaire at Christmastime. He’d prepare the lot, and I would simply enjoy the finished, ready-to-eat offering.
Nothing completely unusual about liking these foods, but perhaps what is unusual is that both Mike and I enjoyed these three foods, and had them from time to time. A treat for us both when we were out together and wanted something different. Something we wouldn’t necessarily make at home.
And after Mike died, and since I find it particularly hard to eat these kinds of foods in front of a vegetarian-almost-vegan, I was no longer eating these foods.
But my “food consultant naturopathic practitioner” vehemently suggested I eat them – just a little bit, from time to time. So back in my diet they have gone.
I bought organic, local black pudding and cooked it for myself mid-week. Yummy in my tummy.
I bought organic, local chicken livers and cooked them for myself another mid-week. Yum yum, and to boot, I slept so well!
And as a very special surprise, Medjool bought and prepared 6 oysters for me one evening while I popped out to pick up my local vegetables.
In fairness, he is not quite as skilled as Mike at preparing them – they were a bit gritty – but delicious nonetheless.
By then, the oyster floodgates had opened, for the weather was turning to winter.
French markets are THE place to find ready-to-eat oysters (yes – even before 9 am!), so that was another time I got my fix, sometimes with Medjool having one, or just watching my delicious delight.
Inevitably there came a point when I reasoned, “I really need to learn how to prepare oysters”. After all, HHCIB? (How hard can it be?)
I asked the fishmongers for tips, which they readily gave. There was no looking back.
I would buy 6 of this type of oyster, and 6 of another from my local fish place or village market. So very different – not just the ease or difficulty of opening them, but in size, taste, texture as well. Some have more iodine than others, (something else I was lacking), so I choose those with more.
A couple of months later, I am quite a dab hand at shucking oysters. It’s not exactly easy. It takes concentration and dedication, as well as a bit of time. And I wear protective gloves!
But the creatures deserve that attention. The delicate beauty of their shells before they even give up their hold on life. Their precious and vital properties, not just nutritionally- but also environmentally-speaking, for they remove excessive nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide from the water.
Honest. Google it. Or read/listen to “Regeneration” by Paul Hawken.
And my blood work results?
All good. Back in the normal zone.
No more zinc or iron deficiencies.
No more Hashimoto or thyroid issues.
(not that I feel any different – ha ha – but it’s good to know that food really does make a difference).
Thank you oysters. Thank you for all you do – for me, for the planet, for love and for life.
Thank you Mike, for bringing a small, but consistent, supply of oysters to our festive table over the years. Only now do I fully appreciate the love, attention and dedication you put into ensuring that special treat for us.
And thank you Medjool for being so genuinely supportive and non-judging concerning the foods that do seem to do some magic for me.