The Joy of Oysters

IMG_6213To admit to a dislike of oysters is a bit like admitting an aversion to cheese in this particular area of France. It’s often met with a frown and genuine surprise, so I set out to discover what all the fuss was about. I have been advised many times to “simply swallow without chewing or even tasting”, but this is what I tell the children on the rare occasion when they might need to take a headache tablet; surely the same rules should not be applied to the world’s most famous seafood (not to mention much talked about aphrodisiac)?

IMG_6272We just happen to live in what many believe to be the oyster capital of France and when we first moved here I realised within months that I had to educate myself and find out a great deal more about these bi-valves. The Marennes-Oléron oyster is famous throughout the country, and abroad. There are around one and a half thousand oyster farms in the entire region with the highest percentage along the banks of the River Seudre, around the ancient coastal town of Marennes, and on the Île d’Oléron. For us, this is just a bike-ride away, and we’ve learned a lot over the past few years about these fabulous molluscs.

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Nearly every day I pass local oyster farms and the huts and sheds where they sell their produce. Oysters are called “huîtres” in French, pronounced rather like weetre, no ‘h’ or ‘s’If you’re in the area, you cannot miss the large signs all along the roadside.

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The Marennes-Oléron oyster is often the focal point of local cuisine, and they are certainly not just for the rich and famous. They’re part of an everyday diet, eaten and purchased in much the same way here as many would stop and buy a McDonalds elsewhere in the world – but the difference is that they’re probably cheaper and a great deal healthier! Whether you’re a Parisian staying in your holiday home, or a local within walking distance, oysters are available all year round and provide a much welcome boost to diets and lifestyles. They are also a mainstay of the local economy and provide a vast number of both permanent and seasonal jobs.

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Along with the oysters, shops also sell samphire and prawns, and they offer other temptations too – how about this for a ‘takeaway’ menu, below?

1/2 crab or crab claws, 6 langoustines, 6 whelks, 6 tropical prawns, local shrimps, 2 large Madagascan prawns, and 6 oysters – all for 19 euros which on today’s exchange is 16 pounds/20 US dollars ! And you know it’s dripping fresh, too…..

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Oysters typically mature in four years. After being bred in beds 5 km out at sea, they are then finally matured for up to three months in shallow ponds called claires, which are the old tidal salt ponds between the land and the sea in the marsh,  an area which has a mixture of fresh and salt water. Some specialties though are grown entirely in the claires and never get to taste the ocean at all.  A microscopic blue algae is present in these ponds, called the blue navicula, and it is this that gives oysters finished in the claires their renowned greenish colour. This final stage is what produces the exceptional quality of the Marennes-Oléron oysters, the largest of which are termed Red Label, and command high prices.

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Marennes-Oléron is Europe’s most prominent oyster production area, and it’s one of only two areas in France to reproduce oysters naturally, suppyling 45000 to 60000 tonnes every year to a world wide market.

Below are the racks used in the claires for growing the final oysters

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and these are the vertical apartment blocks for the young spat, used far out at sea. IMG_6225Having learnt a lot about oyster production over the past few years I still had to learn to like them, and even if you don’t intend to taste a single morsel the whole region is an area not to be missed. Apart from the aquaculture, there is also much to be appreciated on a warm day by just wandering around the local oyster-producing towns and villages, some of which have been sending oysters on horse-back, and then by train, to Paris for over seven centuries! For the curious, we are told that a sack of unopened oysters can stay on the right side of edibility for up to four weeks in a fridge, but I personally struggle with this and would never put it to the test!

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Take a seat at a local café, where you can either simply have a coffee and watch people come and go, or you can sit and eat. It’s all very laid back and casual, and being France, unhurried. Of course, you can also sidle up to the takeaway menu and go home and indulge yourself there!

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Stroll amongst the old oyster sheds, beautifully preserved, many of which are now used by locals as summer cabins.

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There are many theories that oysters should be eaten only when there is an R in the month, but here they are eaten year-round and spring, according to scientists, is the time of year when they have their greatest aphrodisiac quality. There are many old wives tales about eating raw oysters to stimulate the libido, and research has shown there may be some scientifically proven fact to the claim. However, I’ll leave you to make up your own minds (and no, despite the fact we had five children in ten years, Roddy did not feast solely on molluscs!).  However, oysters do boast very high levels of zinc, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, copper, manganese and selenium amongst other things, and they’re also a beneficial source of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

So, aphrodisiac or not, how do you serve them?

“Never cook a local oyster” is what you will be told by anyone from these parts, even though millions of them are served cooked throughout the world. A bed of ice might therefore seem traditional but the majority of people here seem to agree that this is not the way, and that they’re best when they are not too cold – others also say there is no need to add the usual tabasco sauce or lemon juice. Apparently you just need to savour the genuine taste of the sea and slurp straight from the shell, advice somewhat contrarily removed from what I am often told to do which is to simply swallow and not chew. In fact the deeper I delve into this the more contradictory the information I am given, “Chomp away as hard as you can,” would be the best way to translate the most recent French advice I was given at the weekend.

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It seems it really is just down to individual taste and preference. I’ve come a long way on my journey to enjoy oysters. Now I eat and serve them mainly in the local French style, on a dish, with no ice, totally “au naturel“;  but there will always be a vinaigrette, some lemon juice and even some tabasco sauce on the side for anyone not wishing to go totally native!

174 thoughts on “The Joy of Oysters

    • I know exactly what you mean, I always avoided them like the plague, I was convinced I didn’t like them and I never even wanted to try them until a couple of years ago. Now I eat them, but I am still not hooked on them! They are difficult to avoid here when we are surrounded by them! xx

  • This is both fascinating and delightful, not to mention lovely with your fabulous photos. I’m a seafood woman but never much for oysters and your post reminds me that I should loosen up and give them another try – although perhaps I should wait until I return to France where I know they will be fresh! The cost of seafood just amazed me. I am not sure what I would pay for that grand haul here in Michigan but it would be much more than $20!

    • I am always really happily surprised at the cost of seafood here, and as you say, we know it is fresh, which does make a huge difference. Here you can ask where the oysters have come from and know you are eating something both local and fresh. Let me know if you do try them again here in France and if you end up liking them! xx

  • I have only ever tried them once and hated them, wet, slimy and tasteless but I admire you for persevering, what you haven’t told us is do you actually like them now? Love them even? Or just eat them because they are so readily available?

    • Ahhh Trish, I was dreading someone asking me this question! I have learnt to like them, but no, I do not love them I’m afraid. We are surrounded by oysters here and so I have taught myself to eat them, I know they are healthy and good for me and I am quite happy on the occasions when I do eat them. xx

  • Ah, this reminds me of the day I was ‘La Marraine’ to my french friend Claude’s daughter. After a tricky start in the church when the Priest asked me if I was Catholic (I wasn’t, but my friend had presumed I was because I got married in a church!), which was hurriedly glossed over, we went to her parent’s house in Brittany for the celebrations to continue. There we were met by a table groaning with oysters and champagne, a traditional feast at christenings. Having always avoided oysters prior to this I was faced with no option but to taste my first oyster. I swallowed quickly, without chewing, only to be chastised by Claude’s Father, “Pas come ca!”, so my second and last one was duly chewed!

    • Oh this made me laugh Julie, but what you haven’t said, but I have sort of presumed, is that you didn’t like them? The first you probably didn’t taste too much but the second as you chewed it, I am guessing you did not like at all! Such a traditional celebratory meal, oysters and champagne, and yet like you, I can imagine many things I would far rather have with the glass of bubbles! However, I do now eat them happily (ish) xxx

  • What a fascinating post! You’ve made me want to learn more about how the oysters are farmed. I love oysters and definitely need to visit this region in France. I would be as happy as a clam!….errrr oyster that is….

    • I have learnt so much about oysters since we have lived here. I see them everywhere and they are very much a part of the local culture. Oysters have been cultivated here since Roman times. Do let me know if you visit this area, it would be lovely to meet, it’s quite beautiful! xx

    • I feel your pain! I have learnt to like them, but I certainly don’t love them and I would, if I had a choice, always choose something else, but as we are surrounded by them here they are almost inevitable! How about Stuart, does he like them? xx

  • I often wonder when reading your blog what everyone does. Now I am learning, oysters and tourism, are these the two main sources of income in your area? Do the seaside towns and villages close up in the winter like so many places in France or is there a year round population. I had never even heard of the Charente Maritime before last year and I am learning through your words and photos all about a most delightful new area of France. Thank you

    • Tourism and Oyters are certainly a large part of the economy here and of course that includes the maritime industry. Manufacturing is also a major part of the economy and then farming, including the produce of cognac. We are lucky that all around us the towns and villages do tend to remain fairly busy all year round. It is true that they quadruple in numbers in the summer months but they do not die in the winter, there are enough locals to keep things happily ticking over which makes it a great place to live 12 months of the year xx

  • Another truly fascinating post from you and beautiful photos which say as much as the words, as always!

  • No, I just can’t eat oysters! Nor scallops, I think it’s the jelly-ish texture I don’t like, although I have had smoked oysters which are much more palatable. Love the photos of the little huts. x

    • Thanks Janet, I love all the colourful oyster huts and I am so glad that they have been preserved. I am not a huge seafood fan, in fact I am rather take it or leave it, but I have learnt to at least like oysters, even if I don’t love them!! xx

  • I’ve tried, I’ve truly tried to stomach oysters. Round about Christmas it was pretty much social death to refuse oysters in our little town. But while I’ve learnt to get them down me if I must, I find them truly horrible. And really, I am among the world’s least fussy eaters. Where am I going wrong?

    • I don’t think you are going wrong at all! I have learnt to like them, but I certainly don’t love them. Everyone eats them here, it would be impossible, almost, not too. On Sundays there are always people selling oysters in most villages from the boot of their cars, even in the pouring rain and freezing cold in winter and they always do a roaring trade. I always used to think people instantly thought I was a typical foreigner when I said I didn’t like them, so I sort of forced myself to eat them and slowly I learnt to like them more! Maybe it’s a case of practice makes perfect! I used to hate tea, all tea, but I forced myself to drink green tea, because I got so bored of permanently saying I didn’t drink tea when we were in the UK, and now I love it, but only the green, I still cannot drink regular tea!! xx

      • Ha! Tea’s another thing I don’t really like, regular or green, and nobody in France could believe that when I do drink it, it’s weak and without milk, just like them. I’m the only person in England who prefers French tea to English…… xx

      • If I as forced to drink tea, the only way I could even imagine drinking it would be the French way, I truly cannot stand the typical with milk and two sugars, yuk!! I am always amazed at how popular tea is here. I like a couple of cups of coffee in the morning and a cup of green tea in the afternoon, a routine I stick to every day!!

  • Love love love oysters! Aphrodisiac or not if I lived where you are I would eat them every week, especially at those prices!

  • I am salivating at the thought of oysters! I fished for them in the Solent for over 20 years and although we shipped many tons to France and Spain I had not had one until I came to Alderney. Howard got me to try some delicious Herm Oysters in the Harbour Lights and that was me hooked. Luckily they are abundant in Australia so I can get my fix here but I am really looking forward to seeing your neck of the woods and trying them there. Those buildings and salt marshes deserve several paintings too!

    • He never managed to persuade me! Although I know Herm oysters are meant to be delicious. I had my first ones here, unbelievably. I am still not a huge fan, I don’t love them but I do like them. However, in Alderney Roddy introduced me to ormers, something I know you know all about, now those I simply adored, beaten and then gently fried, but definitely not slow cooked which is the traditional Channel Island way! Cant wait for you both to come over so we can show you around, it is an artists paradise. xx

      • Guernsey now has an oyster farm too, down at Rocquaine, but I am like you, can eat them to be polite, but not a huge fan, unlike my husband! There was an amazing photo taken off an ormer near Lihou Island last week, will try and facebook it too you. Fingers crossed.

      • Apparently there used to be one on Alderney but it shut down many years ago, hope the Guernsey one does better. Would love to see the Ormer photo, Roddy used to love going out ormering on the few days when it was allowed, he would come back so exhausted from turning over and back so many heavy stones in deep water, but they are worth all the effort! Xx

  • My Grandfather always said the only way to eat an oyster was to paralyse the throat with Whisky first. Now I can’t abide whisky so that is not an option for his dippy Grand-daughter. I am not one to seek out oysters (though it may surprise that even in Cantal, far from the Ocean, Oysters are prized and ALWAYS served on high days and holidays) but I will eat them. The best by far I have ever had (close your ears and eyes ye French) were in Soho when I was about 20 and they were flash-fried, like scallops. But I will eat them raw and I agree that an ice-bed is too severe and nullifies the taste of the sea, which I would venture is really what the fuss is about (aphrodisiac qualities notwithstanding). My husband won’t eat them at all along with escargots and cuisses de grenouilles. Boring old G1T that he is 😉

    • I actually don’t mind whisky, but I haven’t had a glass for, crikey, maybe fifteen years or more, I’d be on the floor within minutes!! You are rather like me, I like them (ish), I will eat them but I don’t love them. I have actually never had them cooked. But I do love ormers, the British name for Abalone found in British waters. They are a mollusc too and although the traditional Channel Island way to cook them is long and slow in a stew, Roddy always beats them tender and then flash fries them, they are utterly delicious! They are a great delicacy, the ormer season is short and it is hard work wading in deep water to pick them out by hand, when I first tried them I felt I had to like them because but actually I truly do love them. sadly I have not had the same love affair with oysters! Maybe next time I will try them flash fried as well, although the locals here might give me that same bemused frown!! xx

      • I have never had an Ormer (Abolone) but maybe I should try some time. I actually rather enjoy provoking that very French facial contortion by doing things out of their ken at table …. you can see them thinking ‘poor thing, she’s English – she doesn’t know any better!’ Whisky and I remain remote though I did used to take a glass on my Father’s memory on his birthday. Eventually I conceded to self that there were far better ways of remembering him than wincing my way through a glass of something odious! Xx

      • You but try an Ormer, not sure if you will ever see them for sale much, maybe English ones. I have only ever had them in the Channel Islands and they are a true delicacy with very strict rules; they can only be collected on a handful of dates between January and April. Ormering dates fall on a full moon, new moon and the two days following those days – just 24 days a season and that is it. Of course there are size regulations too, they have to be hand picked in knee to thigh deep water and every stone unturned must be turned back again after. I remember Roddy collecting them, he was always exhausted after a few hours of ormering, but it is totally worth it! Our friends have got used to me drinking red wine as an apéro, I remember they thought that was incredibly strange when we first met them, wherever we go, each house is always the same, a huge drinks table with every kind of spirit, and then I opt for a glass of wine, now they all know me and just laugh, I am English after all! I am only saved when champagne is offered, and I love that there does not have to be any special occasion, bubbles are welcome at any time, that’s something we do agree on!! Not sure whisky fans, Roddy included, should read that you label it odious!!! and that’s another thing, the French Love their whisky!! xx

      • I know they do! We had family staying recently and he wanted cognac. I went to all the local supermarchés (all the big players have express versions dotted about the city centre, of course) and was shocked that I could only get small bottles of one sort of cognac but could have my choice of literally scores of whiskys! My stepson is a single malt aficionado so I am on thin ice but I don’t care! I expect Ormers will remain in my imagination then, but I have Roddy’s recipe for success tucked in my mind in case the need should ever arise! Xx

      • You might get ormers if you happen to be on the south coast, possibly Devon, I will ask Roddy later. Now of course if you were here you would get ample choice of cognac too, this being it’s home, strange though that there is so little choice elsewhere in France. I read somewhere that the French now make more whisky than the Scots, I have to find out more and I wonder where they make it, stupidly I cannot find the article again! Whether they make it themselves or not, they still call it Le Scotch! xx

      • My tipple is Armagnac. I’ll be interested in the Roddy verdict on Ormers. Now off to prepare for Russians staying the weekend (and unexpectedly bringing their 2 1/2 year old little boy). They have asked, amongst other things for ‘typical French cuisine’ … where to START on that one!! They have never been in France before so I just hope we don’t disappoint. Three days suddenly seems rather scary! Xx

      • Roddy says you don’t get Ormers at all in the UK, just the Channel Islands and further south, sorry! Guess you will have to take a trip to the Islands!! Hope all is going well with the Russian entertaining, you are a brave lady! Xxx

      • I haven’t been to the Islands since I was in my teens so I might just be tempted. Husband has just gone to pick up the Russians …. more later (am drinking a fortifying glass of red wine 🍷 😉) xx

      • Oh you should go, two of the girls were born there and it’s Roddy’s home. Good luck this evening and weekend, the wine sounds like a VERY good idea!!! I’ll be thinking of you! Xx

      • That explains much … the love of the sea for a start! When we meet I will share a friend from Jersey but not appropriate to use her rather lofty name here 😉 The wine is working magically well 😂

      • Slowly the jigsaw comes together!! It’s a small world, it’s amazing how many people know each other from the Islands, I shall be intrigued! Glad the wine is going down well. Bucketing with rain here after a very hot day, it is so humid and warm it feels like Florida! Have to go, early start tomorrow. Have a great weekend xx

    • And there is nothing wrong with that. On a beautiful warm day, there is nothing better than a good coffee and sitting and watching everyone come and go, locals and tourists, people watching is always so much fun xx

  • OH I can just smell the ocean from here!!! I absolutely adore oysters. Having been born in California but only lived there for a time until I was 4 or 5 I am sure I was exposed to them as I have no recollection of my first time eating them. It’s a case of I’ve just always liked them. raw, steamed, smoked but never fried which is the only way my Yankee husband will even tolerate them. Living in the Midwest sadly there are no local oysters….. so I will enjoy your photography skills instead.

    • How fabulous that you have had them every which way except fried. I have just been told that gently flash fried is one of the nicest ways to eat them and I certainly intend to try that. Do you ever get back to California? I have to admit they are not something I would miss if I didn’t have them, shhh, I probably shouldn’t say that too loudly around here! xx

  • Oysters! I’ve just returned from the Languedoc and in every market oysters were available. When served in the restaurants they are so beautiful in their simplicity… on ice and stunning naturally. Very lovely post, what an excellent picture tour. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks so much Jill, I do love the way the French enjoy seafood in general, always very simply with little or nothing added to the meal. Hope you had a fabulous time in the Languedoc, such a beautiful part of the country. xx

  • I enjoy eating oysters along with the taste of the sea. There are many different flavors to oysters coming from different areas. The best ones I ever had were in Paris in September, and came from your area. They had a sweet and salty taste, followed by the briny taste of the sea. I haven’t been able to replicate those flavors since. I say why eat them, if you are only going to swallow them whole? Save them for me please.
    Love your pictures too

    • How interesting that you found the best ones you have ever eaten were the Marennes-Oléron ones, they are very well respected in France and Europe. Because they are matured in the Claires they are not quite as salty as some and it does give them more taste. I do agree with just swallowing, it seems hardly worth it, but oysters are one of those things that virtually every French person I know has an opinion on and those opinions certainly do differ quite a bit!! xx

  • Ooh, I loved your post and photos today. I live on Morro Bay, on the central coast of California which is home to two oyster farms, one of which, is very visible from my home. I collect the floats and baskets that break away in wind and storms and return them to the farm. They offer me oysters in return but I’ve never accepted them because I too haven’t enjoyed them in the past. I will try again with small sized ones that are eaten raw or quick roasted on a BBQ in our local area. I do enjoy Oyster Rockafeller which involves chopping and spinach.

    • I have visited Morro Bay, how lucky you are to live there, such a stunning area. I only tried my first oysters when we moved here, because I was literally surrounded by them, I still don’t love them, but I do now like them. I have only ever eaten them raw but I have decided, having read several of the comments here, that I am going to try them gently flash fried, that sounds delicious, even if it is not the “done” way around here! I think you should try them again on the BBQ roasted and let me know please, if you like them that way, I shall try that next! xx

  • Yummy favourite food raw or grilled with some samphire
    I remember seeing enormous plates of fruit de mer when visiting ile d oleronne.

    • I didn’t know you had been to the Île d’Oléron, what a small world. Do you know when you are planning to come over this side of the world? Cant wait to show you both around, and you can revisit old haunts! I would imagine you will see quite a lot of changes, especially on the Island! xx

  • Hmmmm. I’ve only ever managed to get down one oyster, because I wanted to know what it was like. Not loving them I must say, but maybe I should persevere! I always feel that if so much fuss is made about them, then it must be me that’s missing something. Also, what’s the point of chucking something down without tasting? All very strange! My oyster journey continues…….. Thank you for an interesting post. Every day’s a school day is one of my husband’s favourite sayings!!!

    • I hadn’t even eaten an oyster until we moved here, because they just didn’t appeal to me at all. I had had plenty of opportunities but I just didn’t want to try them. However, here we are surrounded by them. I have learnt to like them, but I don’t yet love them! I have only ever eaten them raw, but I am now going to try them gently flash fried, I think I might even quite enjoy them that way! I love your husband’s saying, he is so right and it is so true. Every day I learn something new! xx

  • Made me smile – a lot! And even if you did your darndest to convince and underlined everything with gorgeous photo material and well spiced words – I just cannot eat oysters. I did ONCE eat escargots and I must say the herb butter was wonderful but the glibbery rest….. non merci, pas pour moi.
    I also do not think that we need to try EVERYTHING, just because everybody else does it. So go on, slurp your champagne and have a grilled fish instead. I DID learn to love St Jacques, and guess what? I had my first ones at a friend’s place in Brixham 🙂 I was totally won over and congratulated her on her cooking – she looked at me as if I had a heat induced disease…. ME! You gotta be kidding; I bought them myself at Marks and Sparks 🙂

    • I have never eaten escargots, I just can’t, nor frogs legs! But oysters I have come to like, I don’t love them, that’s for sure, and there are certainly things I would far prefer, but as we are literally surrounded by them I had little choice but to educate myself to like them, not because everyone else does but to avoid seeming permanently rude, or worse still “the strange English lady” It’s bad enough that I am not a big cheese fan!! St Jacques I love and Ormers, a local delicacy we had often when in season in the Channel Islands, and Champagne, of course, like the French, anytime!! xx

  • I am so jealous! I would be in hog heaven! I prefer mine slightly grilled but I can appreciate them raw as well now! $20 for all the fabulous seafood…amazing. Loved this visit…

    • Thanks so much Cindy, I thought 19 euros for that platter was pretty good, certainly not Paris prices! I have only ever eaten oysters raw, but on the advice of so many people here, I am going to try them gently fried or grilled next! xx

  • Beautiful photos, as always. I adore eating oysters and it’s yet another thing I miss about Charente-Maritime while living here in Southern California. I’m going to have to look harder around here!

    • Thanks so much, there are several readers here who have commented from California, and they all enjoy oysters, but I am not sure if any are from the south, I know one lady is from Morro Bay, but that is certainly not Southern Californa! Hope you do find some delicious ones, if not you’ll have to come back to the Charente Maritime for a visit! Xx

  • Trouble is I’ve now dribbled all over my tablet. The only word in the world that makes my mouth water! (Although, as you know, Susan, figs come close! Do you have an apricot? Looks as if we’ll have a bumper crop, if the wind would just calm down).

    • Brilliant! We don’t have an apricot tree! We have two peaches, it looks as if we are going to have a bumper crop of cherries this year, the first are now 90% ripe and we’re getting excited at the thought of gorging on fresh cherries once more! The fig tree also has plenty of fruit, but it’s the second crop that is the main one and the one that we love the most!! Hope you are both well. The wind has been somewhat brutal here too, keeping temperatures down, but if one can get out of it then the weather is gorgeous! Xx

      • All being well we’ll bring you some! We inherited a small cherry but have not yet had one from it. April 2015 we planted 2 baby cherries we bought in uk. Napoleon has nothing but the other looks more promising. Longing for cherries! Friends about 3 k away had a youngish cherry smothered with fruit. The frost got it last week and they are all shrivelled to nothing. Life! Xxx

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      • Oh how awful for your friends, the frost so late in April caused so much havoc in the vineyards too. We were lucky, we didn’t get a frost here, it got as low as 4C but that’s all. Would love some apricots if you have some to spare, come and have some lunch xx

      • Ps. Jim got ‘trumpt’ well and truly. Had a heart attack the night of the election. After six stents he is now back up to speed. Very scary though. Xxx

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  • If anyone feels in need of some history, “The Oysters of Locmariaquer”, by Eleanor Clark (first published in 1964), talks about oystering in Brittany, not all that far from Charente-Maritime in miles.
    I’ve eaten oysters, although not an aficionado, and didn’t know they were so healthy for you.
    Your pictures of the area are marvelous. I can smell the salt tang and feel the warm sun.

    • Hi Emm, I shall look for the book as I have loved learning so much about the history of oysters and the way they are farmed here. There have been oysters here since Roman times. We are surrounded by them here, I love crossing the marshes and seeing the oyster beds, you will love this area, so much to see and do and I will email tomorrow, sorry things have slightly taken over! Xx

    • I have only ever eaten them raw, because that is the traditional way around here. However, having read so many comments it seems that many people eat them lightly grilled of gently pan fried and I really do want to try them this way next. Xx

  • At my ripe old age, I had oysters for the first time on the quai in Cancale last September. You buy them at a stall along the water, a woman shucks them onto a plate for you, adds a half lemon, you eat them sitting on the sea wall, and toss your shells down onto the rocks when you have finished. They were superb!
    There is a small shop around the corner that sells ONLY Muscadet. You walk in and he knows exactly what you want: a chilled demi-bouteille with the cork half pulled and two plastic cups! Heavenly with the oysters.
    Terrific pictures, loved this post, it brought back good memories!

    • I truly think that is one of the best ways to eat so many things, I love eating sitting on a sea wall, although I have never eaten oysters like this, but I can imagine they would be perfect. How terribly civilised and how typically French that the shop around the corner sells the exact white wine you need, ready to serve. They sound like fabulous memories. Will you come back to France? I hope if you do you manage to come a little further south to the west coast and the Charente Maritime xx

  • I have never tried oysters, despite many opportunities, I had a friend who got so terribly sick from eating a bad oyster and I have never forgotten it, so I always give them a wide berth! I would however wander around and soak up the atmosphere very willingly, it looks beautiful.

    • Despite many opportunities I too never ate oysters until quite recently, I tried them for the first time when we moved here a few years ago! But eat them or not, wandering around any of the villages is always perfect and so much fun, especially looking at the well preserved brightly painted oyster huts. Xx

  • Brittany oysters are a major part of our holiday in the Morbihan each year, can’t get enough of them!

    • Hi Sharon, I read Bonnie’s comment, just a couple before yours and she was saying how she had the most fabulous oysters in Brittany sitting on the sea wall, it sounds like so much fun. She was in Cancale which is far from the Morbihan but I am sure you can do the same, it sounds so romantic! Xx

  • I like oysters (secretly I like them better cooked than raw) and I like them au naturel, without the acidic additions. They are good with saucisson that has been cut into thin shreds and crisped up a bit. I get fed up with shucking them though. An American friend recommended that I put them in the oven for a few minutes. It’s not enough to cook them, but it makes them open their shells a bit and makes it easier to shuck them.

    • Shucking oysters is a tedious and time consuming job, and one I leave to Roddy, he’s an expert! I have only ever eaten them raw, but so many people have said how they like them gently flash fried or grilled that I am going to try them like this next. With a little crispy saucisson sounds delicious! Xx

  • Ooh, I love oysters! I remember when I lived in France I was invited to a dinner party, and everyone watched me intently when the oysters were served. They seemed quite surprised and even disappointed that a. I knew what they were and b. I liked them! Growing up in the south of New Zealand, Bluff oysters were cheap and plentiful. They are no longer cheap…. in fact they are VERY expensive…. but still worth a taste from time to time. 🙂 Lovely photos again, thanks Susan.

    • I remember seeing the Bluff oysters although I never ate any, the first oysters I ate were here in the Charente Maritime! When you are here this summer they will have to feature highly on your menu! Emailing you tomorrow, sorry, I have just been rather swamped xx

  • Fabulous post, but then I’ve come to expect this! I enjoy oysters with a chilled white wine and I do like a squeeze of lemon juice and tobasco sauce, I’m a tradionalist!

    • Nothing wrong with being a traditionalist! Just reading all of these comments today, I have come to see that so many people enjoy them in so many different ways, each to their own in my opinion! enjoy xx

    • This is what the lady where we usually buy our oysters tells us, but to be honest I am still very dubious about this! It is only for unopened oysters, opened ones keep just a couple of days. But still I would be far more cautious and stick to a maximum of ten days or so for unopened ones! xx

      • Gotcha! Thanks so much for the clarification. I know in Europe people are much more relaxed about food storing conditions than us here in the States, like leaving chicken eggs out un-refrigerated and keeping cheese out for hours and hours. Thought this might be one of our obsessive do-nots:)

      • We never refrigerate our eggs, they live on the kitchen counter and they are not refidgerated in supermarkets either. However, when it comes to fish, and especially shellfish I don’t take any chances! And I certainly wouldn’t mess with oysters!! Xx

    • It’s all a matter of personal taste isn’t it. My father loves salad, but totally au naturel, because he says you can then taste the leaves and that any dressing simply ruins the flavour rather than enhancing it. I am sure the same came be applied to any food. Next I am going to try my oysters gently pan fried, the French around here will gasp in horror (if I tell them) but I’ll just be “English” what more can they say!!! xx

  • I love oysters, au naturale of course. Though a little brown bread and butter on the side is nice and a skirt of lemon. Can’t wait to get to Bretagne and nearby to indulge in October. Oysters here we come.

    • I do like a little bread on the side too, but typically many French here don’t even do that, not so much as a bite of baguette even, just oysters and shellfish and nothing else, except of course a good chilled white wine or champagne! Any chance of you getting down this way in October? xx

      • Yes Susan. we will be staying in Pont – Aven, Brittany for a while, then will travel down to Dordogne. I would love to drop in for a coffee or tea on the way. Once in Brittany, I will email you to see how you are placed. xx
        I will carry a secret baguette and butter when feasting on the oysters.

      • What a fun trip it sounds, but please do come and stay for a night or at the very least come and have lunch or dinner. Once you get firmer plans do email me and we can make plans. Very exciting! Xx

  • Hi dear Susan,
    Another wonderful,entertaining post with your gorgeous pictures! I feel like a Sunday surprise in the middle of the week!
    Thank you!
    Visitng your local areas wih you is always a treat,(even if by arm chair!)especially since we really do agree with the idea that locally grown products just about always taste fresher and most of the time(here,anyway) are less expensive than ones brought in from somewhere else.
    I have never been an oyster fan ,but used to adore most all shellfish;now,unfortunately,allergies prevent me now from partaking these delights.(which is okay because I devoured more than my fair share when I could!)
    Sharing in your life,with your lovely family,is a special pleasure!
    Blessings to you all!

    • Hi Natalia, locally grown anything is always the best I do agree and we are so lucky to have a fabulous climate here that means we can grow pretty much anything during the summer months and there is always an abundance of seafood. I am not a huge shellfish fan, more’s the pity living here, but I have learnt to like oysters, but I am a long way from loving them still! Hope you have a lovely end to the week xx

  • I would be in absolute heaven as I adore oysters! Interesting that they won’t cook any of them. Although I can understand that if they are fresh out of the water, yum! A bit of lemon, or just plain, I love them. But I also will eat them fried, barbecued, florentined, covered in gruyere and baked, sauced, with onions, any way you want to put them on the table, LOL!!

  • Oh MG, as the saying goes. Oysters to me are the bestest offering ever, especially in Australia, and after that, snails!! Am a a bit of a purist – so oysters au naturel and other simple ways of serving – SO good! and no arguments ‘gainst snails!! OK – I do not mind oysters Berci or similarly simply served. Funny how it ‘stays’ in families ’cause both my daughters and all their children absolutely love, love, love and search worldwide both the natural and gentle and real! Envious of you who may not have to travel to get . . .

    • I like things very au naturel too, I am not a big sauce or dressing person, I get that from my Father, who won’t even have a dressing on salad, he likes to taste the leaves. But snails, no, I am afraid I have resisted, I spend my life removing snails in the garden and taking them down to the compost where they are welcome to live, they always come out of their shells and slither across my hands leaving a slippery trail, it’s put me off eating them for life! Children certainly do eat what their parents eat, because as you say they grow up with it and don’t give it a second thought. Just as French children eat very grown up food and delicacies without batting an eyelid. Next time you are in France you know where to come to get the best oysters!! xx

      • ‘Funny’ snails story regarding children! My daughters were about 4 and 6 [the younger one being the ‘boss’] when we flew up to Fiji for a couple of weeks of warmth during the August winter school break. Seems half our school had the same idea and half of those ended up in our hotel: hmmm! We wanted an enjoyable long dinner together sans offspring! Headwaiter in main restaurant v understanding : he’d set up a large round table in the corner of the place for the kids and we could actually have a conversation around our own table 🙂 !! Mine had been there before and knew what they wanted. One v young Fijian waiter-in-training ended up next to me all shy and worried: ‘Marama [lady] your daughter ordered twelve [!!!!] snails and then frog’s legs: is she making fun of me?’. Had a hard time not to laugh whilst I told the poor guy that, no, she loved both and tho’ I thought little of her menu choices she was welcome to have them. As long a as a salad appeared somewhere along the route!!! Well, by that time they all wanted to be grown-up smartypants, didn’t they! So the restaurant ran out of snails for the evening, nought was sent back and we had the hardest time not to show we were laughing our heads off in the interim!!

      • What a fabulous story, thank you so much for sharing that. I can just imagine the poor young waiter in training thinking the children were making fun of him and I can imagine you all laughing, secretly of course, and also being incredibly proud that your children were eating “real” food and not the typical chicken nuggets and fries off the kids menu which is always notoriously awful in my opinion and to be avoided at all times! But, I still haven’t eaten snails, I said I would never eat them, but maybe, just maybe, I will change my mind and give them a go this summer, I mean, when in France and all that!!! You can be sure, if and when I do, I shall write about it!!! xx

  • What a grand tour through the land of French oysters! I must say, I love them lightly breaded and fried the best. There is a book on Thomas Jefferson’s journeys through European vineyards. At one spot the author traced on the trail, the inn still had a copy of a bill for supper. It consisted of a bottle of wine and two dozen oysters. I love them, but have never eaten that many at once!

    • There is no way I could eat two dozen oysters in one sitting, that’s a huge amount! I can even eat one dozen, just a few for me is the limit! I have never tried them cooked but now, having read so many of these comments, I am going to try them gently pan fried, they sound delicious! xx

    • Another reader from Morro Bay said the same, I wonder if it is just a northern Californian thing? Either way, I am going to try this, it would be such fun to barbecue them with friends. Have a lovely end to the week, hope the sun is shining and that it is BBQ weather! xx

  • How lovely to see someone else’s fishing shed, Susan. Not just one, though, but many. I’d pay good money to see inside them all as well. I bet they are full of all sorts of things ‘marine’ (but not Le Pen, obviously). Plus a lot of welding gear too, by the looks of things. That is something that used to surprise me in fish farming – just how much construction there is. Anyway, I thought this was a brilliant post, quite possibly my favourite ever – though to be fair I do have a soft spot for boats, water, fish, sheds and seafood. It must run in the blood. The only thing missing was a bit of shingle and an ice-cream van 🙂

    Can we have more boats and seaside photos please? Would I be right in assuming the aluminium ‘landing-craft’ type vessels are the modern oyster skiff? Brilliant that they can work those flush decks without worry.

    • Your on dangerous ground here Phil daring to mention politics and just two days before the elections, scary stuff! So to move right along, many of the oyster huts are now used as a place to store picnic gear for families on their summer getaways, but it is great that they are used and have not simply been left to rot. The aluminium boats are indeed the modern oyster skiff. You must come here and bring your wife and spend some time wandering around, I’ll gladly translate for you and you can ask all sorts of questions! Plus there is always plenty of ice cream on sale!! xx

  • Delicious and SO healthy. I always think they should be messed with as little as possible. Just a drizzle of lemon juice and a side order of finely chopped shallots

    • That’s actually my philosophy with all food, I prefer it all natural as it is meant to be, I am definitely not a sauce fan at the best of times! But they are so so healthy, perhaps they are not just an athropdisiac but also the secret of long life around here! Xx

  • Before we moved to the south of France, I lived in La Manche, in Normandy. We often ate oysters there too, humongous ones, and always straight from the shell, without favouring. All we had was a glass or two of dry white, to help them go down.

    • I didn’t know you were up there first, we are from the Channel Islands so used to look across at you! A good glass of dry white or even some bubbles is vital! Xx

  • I would try one super fresh and natural. I have had oysters Rockefeller and they are good. I was most amazed at the lovely photography work. The one pic with the oyster shop, van, and long white cloud in the sky so looks like a postcard. As always your blog has perfect pictures and great subject matter.

    • Thanks so much Debbie, you are too kind! It’s really just because the subject matter is interesting and easy to photograph and a lot of luck thrown in! Plus I bore the children endlessly by permanently stopping to take photos!! Xx

  • Oh I’m so in love with ‘huitres’. I always lightly chew as I love the taste and I’m always disappointed if they have been opened and drained of their seawater. Can’t believe it took me until my 40’s to be brave enough to eat them! My neighbour goes to the coast and brings me a bucket of them. For me it’s au naturel or just lemon or shallot vinegar and loads of ice. Fab post as always Susan xx

    • Amanda, you are not alone, it took me that long too, I never ate one until we came here and only then because we are literally surrounded by them, as I said, I pass the stands most days, how could I not eat them! I have only ever eaten them au naturel because that’s how friends serve them, but I am going to try them gently pan fried, because so many people have suggested this and say they are fabulous this way, or grilled on the BBQ, that would be rather fun and make a nice change! A tense weekend ahead of us all I think, fingers crossed. Xx

      • We are an hour from the coast but the fish van sells them and all the supermarkets here so we do have them regularly, especially as my husband has honed the art of opening them! Let me know how you get on with cooking them and I may have a go. Fingers and everything crossed here too.xx

      • I always let Roddy open them too, he is the expert! I think I am going to try them on the BBQ, I think it would be rather fun, if we get some good outdoor eating weather, maybe next weekend. Keeping fingers and everything crossed here too, trying so hard not to think about it, because it doesn’t even bear thinking about! Xx

  • Paul is an oyster lover – he will eat them however they come, and he’ll stop for them any time. I never really ate them growing up, but I’ve made an effort to find ones I like now. It turns out, they come in all sorts of different flavors. Once I found some I liked, I was set and I love them! Even better, once I started eating ones I liked, I found an appreciation for the ones I don’t like as much (which is good, because the ones I like the most tend to come with the heftier price tags).

  • I have tried fresh oysters and cannot eat them either by swallowing or chewing. However, quelle horreur, I absolutely love them battered and deep fried! Less healthy, I am Sure, but sooooo delicious!

    • So funny, as Carole who commented just before you, said she also loves them deep fried and in bread crumbs. I say, enjoy them however you want to eat them! xx Hope you are having a lovely weekend xx

  • I enjoy an occasional oyster but I’m not sure I could eat several at one meal. Here in West Wales our local village hosts a seafood festival every summer. Various seafood is on offer, both to buy or just try. Chefs set up tents with queues of customers waiting for lunch. The disappointing thing is, that for the rest of the year, there is very little local seafood available to buy. Where does it all go? France and Spain is my guess, they know all about good food!

    • Firstly, I imagine the the seafood festival must be absolutely fantastic, especially if the sun is shining and everyone can enjoy a fabulous day out. But you are in a coastal environment, I too wonder why there is not some form of local seafood available all year round, perhaps the only fish that is available to be caught locally is seasonal only? Perhaps also it is too rough for boats to go out all year round? I don’t know I am just making random suggestions. I have never seen imported fish at our markets here, only French! Hope you are having a lovely weekend with some sunshine! xx

  • Oh how I LOVE oysters……For me somewhat they offer a true taste of the sea. A wonderful post….fantastic pictures, as always. Having just returned from Porugal where I always have a wonderful time, I still have to admit that my true love is France. Happy weekend and elections……..and do hope that it’s warmer where you are than here. Janet 🙂 xx

  • While I’d love to go au naturel, alas my strong aversion toward slimy ocean food kicks in. I do however happily enjoy smoked oysters. Perhaps it’s because living so far inland, my seafood palate never developed and is now so stunted it cannot possibly enjoy the simplicity and taste of the ‘real’ deal.

    • That could be an explanation! I love any smoked fish, we have a smoker and often smoke our own, perhaps I should get Roddy to try smoked oysters, another little project for him! xx

      • Smoking them is a brilliant idea! I’m going back to uk in about a week for a bday party, followed by Jim early June for a wedding. SO hoping that I won’t miss the cherrys and apricots. Will certainly bring you some if timing works. Some of the vineyards, here, look so sad after the frosts. Do hope they’ll recover. Hope to see you before too long. Take care both. Diana xxx

      • We will certainly try smoking them, we have a smoker! So hope you won’t miss cherry and apricot season. Let us know when you are back and we can arrange lunch. Thank goodness the vineyards around our immediate neighbourhood were fine, but I heard that many in the Gironde have huge problems, so so sad. Have a safe trip and we’ll see you when you come back xx

  • You are so clever! What fun!
    I feel quite educated on the topic of oysters….thank you! That surely would not have happened without you taking me by the hand and surging me down to learn!
    Love it!
    Thank you!!

    • I didn’t even eat an oyster until we moved here, I was always adamant that I didn’t want to. But being literally surrounded by them I knew I had to try them and I did. I cannot say I love them yet, but at least I do now eat them! xx

  • Great post! I never acquired a taste for them but I loved reading about your journey! Your photos are beautiful as well! Thanks for linking up again at this month’s Take Me Away party! Enjoy your week!
    Shelley

    • Thanks so much Shelley, I think oysters are indeed an acquired taste, I never even ate one until I came here, but I have learnt to like them! Hope you too have a great week xx

  • I really enjoyed this post. For some reason, it’s really stuck with me, maybe in part because of the wealth of seafood one can buy for such a relatively small cost. I showed it to my French husband, who had to admit that it really got to him because we can only compare it to what we would be able to eat around San Francisco for that same amount of money. The three of us choked down our gourmet sandwiches for three times the cost of that seafood menu, after I showed it to him! Another reason to love France.

    Also, I knew that oysters were a popular food of that region, but I didn’t realize to what extent. Interesting! Not my first choice of food, but I will eat them and even enjoy them when they’re good and fresh.

    • Definitely a reason to love France, incredible price for seafood, but we are lucky here, fish and shellfish is very reasonably priced. Oysters are a huge part of the local economy here and I simply had to learn to like them because they are so popular. I don’t love them yet, but at least I now eat them!! xx

  • I’m afraid I don’t like them at all and just can’t see the point in training myself if the idea is to swallow without tasting…seems rather absurd really (apart from the health benefits I suppose). I know I could never chomp on them with all my force. But I don’t live in an oyster producing area so I don’t really need to like them though I do get why you’re doing your best to get into them. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

  • I had no idea so many oysters were grown there. What an interesting, charming and beautiful post. Love the take out menu!!!

  • I too came around in just the last few years to even TRYING them!To me the best is the sauce they put on them…….always a light lemon or shallot concoction, so that takes OVER rather than that ODD thing in your mouth!

  • Hello Susan it is in France that I learned to eat oysters, 29 years ago! And in a place pretty far north and nowhere near the sea. I am eternally grateful for the discovery, as it quickly became one of my favourite treats – just as you described, slurped straight from the shell with nothing but seawater. I can’t imagine adding anything that would make them more delicious. Our east coast varieties are so large, one does need to chomp and chomp. They are the ultimate ‘taste of the sea’ for me and I am spoiled because my husband goes to a lot of trouble to dive out them out whenever we are on holiday at the coast. I have never had to order them in a restaurant. I don’t care about the aphrodisiac aspect, true or not, and also think they go shockingly well with a bottle of bubbly 🙂 Jeanne

    • You are so right, they go hand in hand with a bottle of bubbly. I have learnt to like oysters. but I have not yet learnt to love them! The bubbly of course, that’s another matter all together! I usually only eat shellfish that Roddy has caught as I then know I can trust it, I guess I am spoilt. But being in the oyster capital of France I do feel confident eating them here. xx

    • Thank you! I have never tried a smoked oyster, so there is another thing I need to try, plus we have a smoker, which my husband is excellent at using, so perhaps he should try smoking some this summer. I’ll suggest it! xx

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