17 October 2010

The Wellfleet OysterFest

Wellfleet oysters and a shucking knife

I love oysters on the half shell. For me, eating oysters fresh from the sea and shucked on the spot is about as good as it gets. Wellfleet, here on Cape Cod, is renowned the world over for its delicious oysters, which are delicate, salty and sweet. They are fabulous just plain or with a fresh squeeze of tangy lemon juice. My favorite way to enjoy these little jewels is with a dollop of bright red, spicy tomato cocktail sauce and a bit of grated horseradish on top. The freshly shucked, icy cold oyster is awash in its bath of fresh, clean, briny Wellfleet Harbor water, which complements the flavor of the oyster, and helps the little goodie slide across the palate and down the throat (or "down the hatch" as we used to say, when I was a child). To read more about Wellfleet oysters, click here. And a New England news station did this video segment on the local industry.

This weekend, the charming town of Wellfleet, right here on Cape Cod, is hosting its 10th annual Wellfleet OysterFest, so naturellement, Jack and I just had to check it out. Now, you have to understand that it gets pretty darn quiet on the Cape as the fall months get colder, so I expected small crowds - mostly locals. We got there early, so that was pretty much the case in the first few hours. However, by noon, we were amazed at the popularity of this event. Apparently, as many as 15,000 people visit it each year, and this year was no exception, as far as we could tell. The event is incredibly well orchestrated, including shuttle buses taking people into town form parking areas at all of the town beaches.

The main attraction is, of course, raw oysters on the half shell, and booth after booth was set up with oystermen (and some women) shucking oysters, fresh from the harbor. There were also other kinds of raw shellfish, including cherrystones and littlenecks. Then there were booths cooking up local favorites like clam cakes, fishcakes, oyster stew, clam chowder, lobster bisque, and food for non-shellfish eaters, including sausages, pizza, even cotton candy... to each his own. Local breweries and Truro Vineyards (next door to Wellfleet) were selling libations. We partook of a dozen oysters, a couple of clam cakes, oyster stew and clam chowder - all sooooo out of this world!

Oysters (above) and clams (below)

 Jack snapped this shot of me when I wasn't paying attention.

 Participants of all ages

Recycling bins - Cape Cod style

The line for the soups at The Lighthouse Restaurant was long, but definitely worth the wait, as everyone standing in the line told us. They were not wrong. We got the clam chowder and oyster stew, but the lobster bisque also looked and smelled divine (next year)! The following pictures are of their booth, which was right in front of the restaurant, on Main Street.
The head chef of the Lighhouse was gently sauteing onions, as well as tomatoes, scallions and herbs for the oyster stew. Jack had a nice chat with the chef, and told him about our Drake who is working at the raw bar at Farallon, shucking many varieties of oysters, including Wellfleets. The chef kindly offered Drake a job if he ever wants one!
The aromas from this booth could be detected the moment we got off the shuttle bus - so tempting!

 Just look at all of the herbs floating in the oyster stew!

Happy Jack

Clam chowder (left) and oyster stew (right) are not exactly low cal, but the heavy cream in them is so sweet, it is a sin NOT to taste them.

Oyster stew, from The Lighthouse Restaurant, was loaded with oysters.

In addition to the food, there are tons of booths with artists and artisans selling their wares, including demonstrations, such as a man carving shorebirds out of wood, and really good live music.

Products for sale benefit environmental preservation efforts.

There are exhibits (like the one above) teaching adults and kids alike, about the various kinds of life to be found in the local waters. Other educational exhibits and lectures are held throughout the two-day event, including gourmet oyster and clam tasting with wine pairing, cooking demos by chefs, historical info on the shellfishing industry, guided tours of the estuaries, including the chance to find and then cook your own oysters with an oysterman. Some of these events cost money, but most are free. (All the money raised here is nonprofit, by the way.)

By far the biggest draw of the entire festival is the hotly-contested oyster shucking contest. Entrants shuck as many oysters as they can in an allotted amount of time, while the crowds watch and cheer. Below are some pictures of last year's contest that I found on the festival website:


 The winner!

Local flavor includes some fun characters, as the following pictures show:


Wellfleet oysters are flown around the world, to arrive at raw bars in restaurants only hours hours after they are harvested. We will be eating dinner at the raw bar at Farallon, in San Francisco, in a couple of days, where we look forward to comparing imported Wellfleet oysters with some of the local California varieties. (Although after paying $15/dozen at the Wellfleet OysterFest, we may find the West Coast price of these little gems a bit hard to stomach!)

If you go to the Wellfleet OysterFest, make sure to arrive early. As Jack and I left town, the traffic crawling toward Wellfleet was as heavy as on any day in the height of the summer season. But don't let that deter you by any means...it is absolutely worth every minute of the wait.

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