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A Salty Appreciation of Taste and Temptation

by Rowan Jacobsen photographed by David Malosh

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63286-256-3
Publisher: Bloomsbury

This verbally and visually succulent book covers 99 types of oysters, most from the shores of North America.

Ten years after A Geography of Oysters, James Beard Award–winning author Jacobsen (Apples of Uncommon Character, 2014, etc.) chronicles his travels from British Columbia down to Seattle, across the Gulf Coast, and from North Carolina up to Nova Scotia, with detours to Ireland, France, and New Zealand. There may be, as he notes, only five widely distributed species of edible oysters, but the look and taste of these species vary widely based on the “merroir” (the marine equivalent of “terroir”) in which they grow up and the way that they are treated as they grow. The author’s appreciation of even the least prepossessing of these bivalves is infectious. Jacobsen makes the case that “every oyster is a tide pool in miniature, a poem built of salt water and phytoplankton that nods to whatever motes of meaning shaped it.” The lavishly illustrated volume consists of mini-essays on the geography and people of the regions in which oysters grow wild or are farmed—Jacobsen favors the carefully farmed varieties—and two-page spreads on each of the types he features, as well as a few carefully culled recipes, a list of oyster bars at which he has enjoyed his subjects, and a glossary of terms like “flupsy” and “pluff mud.” Each of the entries covers species, cultivation, obtainability, flavor, and “presence.” The latter two are where the author lets his imagination soar: East Beach Blondes, farmed in Rhode Island, taste like “brine and ozone; a boardwalk in the rain”; Maine’s wild-harvested Belons remind him of “hazelnuts and anchovies fried in seal fat, with a squishy crunch like jellyfish salad.” In terms of presence, New Brunswick’s Beausoleils are “as clean and inoffensive as a Jehovah’s Witness,” and wild James River specimens have “oversized muscles and a pale potbelly, like an aging professional wrestler.”

Jacobsen may leave noncoastal readers drooling with jealousy, but vicarious oyster slurping is better than none.