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Our Beloved Oysters

A tale about Florida oysters, a remembrance of grandma's apple-spice jam and a poem about a love of birds (and love itself).

If I remember correctly, I was several years past my college graduation before I ever ate an oyster. This is understandable, I suppose, based on the particular Southern geography that was my childhood home.

Folks like me who grow up in the mountain South get fed on pork and beef and chicken and garden vegetables. And during my early years, I never gave much thought to what folks who grew up in the coastal South eat as a matter of course.

But one of those things, I know now, is oysters. I finally had my first raw oysters — if memory serves me correctly — at a place on St. George Island, Florida, called the Blue Parrot. My girlfriend in those days and I were taking a road trip all the way to Key West, and we stopped for a night on St. George. She’s the one who convinced me I should give the oysters a try.

A dozen oysters, shucked, came out on a plastic lunchroom tray with little dishes of cocktail sauce and a basket full of Lance saltine crackers. My girlfriend showed me how to do it. Put the oyster on a cracker, dab some cocktail sauce on top of it, and eat the whole assembly in one bite. 

It felt like eating the sea itself. I was hooked, and I still am.

Those oysters, I would later learn, came from Apalachicola Bay, just on the back side of that island. I would learn that for centuries, oystermen had plied that bay in flat-bottomed boats, using huge tongs to pull the oysters up by hand from their beds. 

But these days, for a variety of reasons, Florida officials have closed Apalachicola Bay to oyster tonging — at least until 2025. And that situation has given rise to a new breed of oyster farmers — folks who bring oysters to our tables in brand new ways. And in our top story this week — “Oysters Spring Eternal” — you can travel with journalist and photographer Erich Martin to see those oyster farmers in action.

This week also brings a beautiful essay from expatriate Southerner George Lancaster about Nai Nai’s Apple Spice Jam — a creation of his grandmother that still lives today because of his family’s diligence in keeping her tradition alive. And we end up this week’s Salvation South with “Why Birds?” — some verses from Appalachian poet Jim Minick about his love affair with birds, and with love itself. 

We hope you enjoy this week’s reading, and we’re so glad you’ve visited us at Salvation South. We love our readers to pieces.

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About the author

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Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.

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