Oysters, like the clams, mussels and scallops are bivalves. This means they have 2 shells that close together with a hinge. Many people think of getting pearls from oysters. Actually most shell bearing mollusks are capable of creating pearls but they are not all valuable. The pearl oysters are the most valuable of all the mollusks but these oysters are not related to the edible variety.
The edible type can be found on the Atlantic coast in shallow water beds or reefs from Canada to Argentina. The Pacific version can be found from Washington to Australia. The Eastern oyster is the most popular with the largest production being in the Chesapeake Bay area. Some of the top varieties of the Atlantic are the Blue point, Chincoteague, Malpeque, Cotuit, Apalachicola and the Wellfast. All of the Atlantic oysters are of the same species and are named after the area where they are found. On the Pacific coast Wilapa bay in Washington is the largest producing estuary. Some of the types found on the west coast include, Golden Mantle, Penn Cove, Yaquina Bay and the Olympia. Most harvested oysters average 2-4 inches in width. The Olympia is much smaller, about one and one half inch. They are also widely farmed on the Pacific coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific area producing by far the largest quantity.
It has been said that they should not be eaten in months that don’t have the letter “r” in the spelling. This is only partially true. This myth was started before good refrigeration was available. It was based on the fact that they would spoil faster during the warmer months, from May to August. They generally spawn during these months which will lessen their quality. They become thin, soft and watery but not inedible. There are now oyster farms that produce ones that do not spawn which will eliminate this problem. Oysters can be baked, broiled, pan fried, sautéed, steamed, grilled or eaten raw. For tips on cooking see HOW TO COOK OYSTERS