25 Dec 2018
When you’re here in a Charleston, you might as well do the things we here consider to be classic South Carolina Lowcountry experiences. One of the things that make travelling fun, is to sample the cuisine and culinary traditions that are unique to the area. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in the Lowcountry - get yourself to an oyster roast! The oysters in the waters of the South Carolina Lowcountry grow in clusters. According to bivalve aficionados, they have a distinct and quite delicious flavor. It’s been likened to experiencing the sea with each bite. As the saying goes, any month with an “r” in it is a good time to eat oysters. So although December and January might be considered offseason for certain things - say, our beach rentals - it’s actually a prime time to eat oysters. If you've been here before, you may already know how much the Lowcountry loves its oysters. They are a huge part of our local culture and the centerpiece of the classic South Carolina coastal party, the oyster roast. You gather with friends and family around a steaming mound of mollusks, crack open a cold one, and start shucking at the communal table, tossing the shells into the hole in the middle of the plywood. It’s a terrific bonding experience. The Post & Courier recently assembled a terrific list of places offering oyster roasts during the holiday season. It’s actually a perfect activity to do around the holidays, when the weather is cooler and people like to gather. It is both a fun Lowcountry activity AND a meal at the same time. It’s also a great way to mingle with the locals. Here’s the list, ably compiled by Stephanie Barna.
A bit of history behind those oysters growing in the South Carolina Lowcountry
The way oysters grow is an interesting tale that weaves both nature and history together. South Carolina used to have a huge oyster industry. Back in the 1930’s, 16 different canneries lined the state’s coast. They harvested, shucked and shipped oysters to large cities like New York, Chicago and beyond. Locals doing the harvesting understood the natural process beneath it all. They knew that oysters need a cultch, or base, on which to attach then regrow. It takes about three months for the baby oysters (“spats”) to attach. It then takes two to three years for an oyster to grow to three inches, which is when it’s considered ready for harvest. The people working in and running the canneries understood the process. They knew they needed to return the shells back to the water, so everything came full circle. Decades passed. Before long, Asian markets began flooding the market with cheaper, inferior canned oysters. The last South Carolina cannery closed in 1986.
Oysters go local
The South Carolina Lowcountry oyster market switched to a more local one. Whole cluster oysters basically stayed here and were consumed and appreciated, in individual back yards and at benefit parties. People around here would wisely say this is progress. Local before local was cool. Why ship ‘em up north when we can keep there here for us? The problem was, most of the shells just ended up in the landfill instead of back in the saltwater and tidal creeks where they belong. Soon it became apparent that oyster beds were disappearing. So in the 1980’s, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources started an oyster bed seeding program, which has helped the situation. Also turning the tide, so to speak, is their oyster shell recycling program, which they began in 2000. Both have grown steadily ever since, just like the oyster beds they are meant to nurture.
There’s always Thursdays at the Dinghy on the Isle of Palms
If you’re staying on the Isle of Palms, you don’t even need to leave the Isle for an oyster fix. The Dinghy has an oyster roast every Thursday at 6:30. There’s live music (usually by Donny Polk) and $7 buckets of fresh steamed LOCAL oysters. They’re located just a walk, golf cart or quick ride away, at 8 JC Long Blvd. It’s just down the street from our office. Just give us a call us if you need directions.
The world’s largest oyster festival is coming up soon
It’s been going on for decades here in the South Carolina Lowcountry. I'm talking about the annual Lowcountry Oyster Roast, and it’s happening Sunday, January 27th from 10:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. LOR has been ranked as one of the top 20 events in the southeast (Southeastern Tourism Society). The festival boasts massive amounts of the mollusks, oyster eating and oyster shucking contests, live music by the popular party band The Distinguished Gentlemen, beer, wine, food court and kids’ area. It’ll take place on the grounds of historic and scenic Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. From the Isle of Palms, just cross over the IOP Connector, turn right onto Highway 17 North, and following the signs to Boone Hall. Here’s the official website so you can start making plans and get tickets. So enjoy some Lowcountry treasures - fresh cluster oysters, and luxury beach house rentals SC by Exclusive Properties. All best, Lowcountry Lisa your Isle of Palms vacation blogger