The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

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Tobin Bushart
CULF 3331
The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell
Report by Tobin Bushart
General Themes:
While reading The Big Oyster I was able to gather a general theme of what Kurlansky was trying to do, and before I give a brief summary of the book I would like to give a short layout of what I think the author was trying to accomplish when writing this book. First off I think the idea was to give a history of Oysters in New York City, but while doing do Kurlansky seemed to try and give a history of the City and its people as well. He also wanted to give a general history on oysters themselves not just New York’s Oysters. He also wanted to talk about the relationship of those Oysters to the people and economy of New York as time passed. He also does a good job of showing of time specific methods of cooking and eating oysters which is always fun as well. Lastly I think he wanted to include some history of the general New England area as well to help contrast New York a bit better. Mark Kurlansky: Who is this guy?

From what I was able to gather online before starting to read the book, Kurlansky is an ex-journalist turned writer. He was born in 1948 and attended Butler University where he studied Theater. Interestingly enough, once he graduated he no longer felt the love for theater anymore and decided that he wanted to move on to journalist. He had a relatively successful career as a journalist for such papers as the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and internationally at the International Herald Tribune in France. Some notable accomplishments; He wrote his first full length novel in 1992, A Continent of Islands, and later wrote Cod in 1997 which became an international Best seller. Following the ideas behind Cod, Kurlansky moved onto Salt which also brought him much acclaim to his skills as a historian and Foodie. Then came the creation of our book of choice, The Big Oyster. Listed as a national Best seller, this book has done considerably well. Today Kurlansky continues to write novels as well as children’s stories. Introduction to Oysters and New York City

The Beginning few chapter start us off at the beginning with an introduction to the history of both Oysters and New York. The Book talks about the travels of a British explorer working for the Dutch East India Company in search of a transcontinental waterway in the Americas. This man was Henry Hudson. Henry was originally told to search much further north but his intuition told him that the northeast was much more likely to have a river large enough to carry ships across the continent to China. Hudson ended up at the mouth of the Hudson River which he traveled all the way up into Albany. Unfortunately Hudson was unable to find a river that crossed North America, but he did get a famous river named after him. The book then goes on to give a brief history of the people that lived in the New York area. These people were the Lenape and they were very fond of eating oysters. Famously they were known for putting the oysters onto hot coals until the muscles relaxed and they opened up. The Lenape people ate so many oysters that the leftover shells were left in massive middens (shell collections), that can still be found all over the North East. Before Hudson had arrived the Lenape people had lived in the New York area for an estimated 3000 years.

Next we were introduced to the land itself and the first Europeans to settle the area. Kurlansky quotes many early explorers in their fondness of the land. They talked often about how many birds lived on the islands and how the air had a particularly sweet smell. Also many early explorers noticed the enormous population of oysters in the area as well as the copious amounts of fish and wildlife that were in the area. They often talked about the magical nature of the island, and Washington Irving was even quoted as saying there were reports of unicorns inhabiting the areas. Kurlansky...
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