In praise of oysters

Alabama Living Magazine
Illustration by Dennis Auth

A loaf of bread, the Walrus said,
‘Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
Now, if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I love oysters.

Steamed, smoked, stewed, fried.

But best of all, I love them raw.

Down on the Gulf Coast there are ancient Indian middens — garbage dumps — some almost 100 feet thick, full of broken pottery, bones of fish and fowl and deer, and oyster shells, thousands of oyster shells. The Indians, I am told, would build a big fire, throw the oysters on the coals and when the heated shells popped open, supper was served. 

Which brings me around to shucking. 

It was a rite of passage for my adolescent son and a moment of parental pride for me, his father.

The adventure began when I got a cooler full of oysters and took them home to where the boy was waiting.

Full of himself as a young puppy.

I gave him a glove, an oyster-knife, and an oyster.

“See that little place at the end of the shell. Stick the point in there and twist it.” 

He did, and the shucking began. 

Then he ate ‘em.

Though I provided crackers and hot sauce, he ate ‘em like his daddy did, slurped right out of the shell, straining the grit between your teeth.

And I stood by, satisfied that I had taught my son a skill others could admire.

My boy was barely in his teens when we had this father-son moment.  Today he is grown, married, gainfully employed and father of my first grandchild.   

When I got the news of the blessed event I began to wonder, will he and his offspring ever have a moment as we did?  

A few years ago, I had read reports from Mobile Bay that a decline in water quality caused by dredging and pollution threatened the oysters and their habitat. 

I was worried.

Then I got the good news.   

Oysters are coming back.

With more attention being paid to preserving wetlands, controlling pollution and regulating dredging, new beds were opened. The 2021 oyster harvest more than doubled what was gathered in 2020.  2022 could be even better.    

The future looks bright for oyster lovers like me, my son, and the next generation.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at


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