Union Oyster House

Oyster Facts: The oyster is a bivalve mollusk that has existed since prehistoric times. More than 100 species of oyster live in coloines on natural beds and banks that are to be found in most parts of the world. Oystes eat day and night. They are highly prolific, and, if left undisturbed, would undoubledly fill the seas!

Image of oyster shells Oyster Shells   Image of pearl Pearls
The shell composes about 4/5 of the oyster's entire weight, and is its only means of protecting its soft body.

Unlike the shell of the clam that is hinged at the long end, the oyster's shell is hinged at the narrow end. The outside of the shell is rough and irregular but the inside is polished smooth.

Oyster shells have been used for centuries for various purposes. They have been used for roads and footpaths; as filling for wharves, low lands and fortifications; as ballast for vessels; as manure for exhausted fields; and as raw material for lime.

When a foreign body gets lodged in the oyster shell, the oyster begins to build concentric layers of onion-like material, thereby giving birth to a "pearl." Certain tropical species of oysters produce pearls of iridescent luster that are commercially valuable. Pearls come in many different shapes and hues, but the most valuable are the large, perfectly round and flawless, black pearls.

Rarely is a pearl of any value found in North American waters.



image of oyster fork
The Oyster as Food
If natural enemies were not enough, man has an insatiable appetite for oysters, and is unrelenting in his efforts to harvest the delicious bivalves. Oysters are harvested either wild from natural beds or, as is more often the case today, from cultivated grounds. (Wild oysters are rough and irregular, while cultivated oysters assume a more uniform shape, and produce more standard meat.)

Not all oysters taste the same. In fact, of the many species, only a few have any commercial value. And the size, shape, flavor and food value of oysters are severely affected by their habitat, the foods eaten, and the temperature of the water in which they have grown. Oysters, due to their native element, are more or less salty, and in fact were at one time sold as accompaniments to drink.

Oysters were first served to the public in this country in 1763 when a primitive saloon was opened in New York City in a Broad Street cellar.

In the 19th century, the American people were enveloped in an oyster craze. In every town there were oyster parlors, oyster cellars, oyster saloons, oyster bars, oyster houses, oyster stalls and oyster lunchrooms. The oyster houses were very popular amongst the best class of people in the city. They were also popular amongst tourists because they knew they would get the choicest seafood, cooked and served in the best style. And with the "express" service and the coming of railroads, oyster houses became popular inland as well.

As early as 1926, the U.S. Public Health Service undertook a system of sanitary controls to safeguard the public and the industry with regard to the purity of oysters.


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