A new book celebrates the beauty of the local harvest.By Maria Allen | Photography by Scott Snider / Lead photo by David Grossman, Courtesy of Island Creek Oyster Company
One cold February day in 2016, Emmy award-winning television producer and writer Marion Lear Swaybill made a visit to Duxbury. She was there to meet up with award-winning chef and restaurateur Jeremy Sewall and Island Creek Oysters founder Skip Bennett to do a little firsthand oyster research for an upcoming book.
The trio drove down the long, sandy road out to Saquish to a spot where an old fisherman’s shack overlooks the grow-out site for a local oyster variety known as Aunt Dotty’s. Standing at the edge of the water, Swaybill experienced her very first Duxbury oysters straight out of the sea. “It’s an extraordinary place,” says Swaybill, “The landscape is sparse and absolutely gorgeous and the oysters we had that day were ice cold and salty–I can still taste it.”
Swaybill and Sewall recently teamed up on a book that celebrates everything about oysters. From the shores of Duxbury Bay to the California coast, “Oysters: A Celebration in the Raw” (Abbeville Press, November 2016) answers every question you’ve ever had about growing, harvesting, shucking and enjoying briny bivalves. The book compiles fascinating bits of history and lore, profiles of oyster farmers and savory descriptions of numerous varieties. It also contains more than 50 stunning oyster portraits captured by acclaimed natural history filmmakers and photographer Scott Snider. The images reveal the subtle differences in shell shape, texture, color and size that distinguish each type of oyster.
“Sharing my love of oysters is something I love to do,” says Sewall, who is one of the owners of the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston. “There’s something romantic about standing in the water and enjoying raw oysters, but as a chef I also love to cook with them.” Sewall contributed culinary insight to the book as well as personal connections to oyster farmers. “We’re really lucky to have a restaurant partner like Skip Bennett, who has so much experience in the industry,” says Sewall.
Thanks to the innovation of modern aquaculture techniques, oysters can be enjoyed year-round, but February can be a particularly harsh time of year for oyster farmers. “When the conditions are too harsh the oysters will freeze when you pull them out of the water, so they can’t harvest every day,” explains Sewall. “I learned a lot while researching the book,” says Swaybill. “Who knew there were over 350 independent oyster farms?” From oyster-inspired art to the rumored romantic benefits of eating oysters, curious foodies will enjoy diving into this visual feast of a book.
The following is a sampling of Scott Snider’s images from the book “Oysters: A Celebration in the Raw” printed with permission from Abbeville Press, New York. All rights reserved.
Kingston Bay, Duxbury
Grower: Bill Driver
Taste: Savory to start, with a mild, sweet finish.
Grower: Skip Bennett
Taste: Unique flavor profile that ranges from briny to sweet.
Growers: Greg Barker and John Whebble
Taste: Briny sweet start, with a strong, earthy finish.
Grower: Skip Bennett
Taste: Meaty, with an earthy brine flavor.