And so, life goes on.
My time at Island Creek ended, ceremoniously, with that last lunch at Tsang’s. But there had been a pretty eventful week leading up it as well as a couple of neat oyster moments directly thereafter which I never properly reported.
It started with a visit from Adam James of the Hama Hama Oyster Company out in Lilliwaup, Washington. He was in town doing a tour of the Northeast and stopped by the farm for a quick morning to scope out the operation. While it wasn’t a great tide to get him out in waders, Chris, Skip, and I were able to show him the Plex and give him a peek at the cages.
Skip popped a few oysters open for him, giving him a taste of Island Creeks at their peak. The oysters are just starting to get plump with all that pre-winter glycogen; the flavor is perfectly round and sweet. Just beautiful.
Adam’s operation is a lot different than ours. His family owns the 400 acres of tidal flats he farms on out in Washington’s Hood Canal.
While he has plenty of space to grow, he’s working with a unique, gravelly surface and 17-foot tides. His oysters are all naturally raised, meaning they’re grown from spat set on shell (versus ours, which are “free range”), which he harvests mostly by hand (their tides get them about 4-5 hours of picking time) and he’s growing both Pacifics and Olympias. He also grows geoducks and Manila clams.
As I was able to see for myself last week, his operation is similar to Island Creek in so many ways. Dave and I visited his farm on our trip to the Northwest the week after I left the farm and found it to be just the right day trip for our week-long tour. The company recently built a brand new retail operation and processing facility which sits right off Hwy 101 on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula — the drive over from Seattle takes you across the spindly fingers of land that jut out into Puget Sound. We arrived to find Adam tapping away at his computer, which he happily abandoned to spend a day touring the farm.
After checking out his shucking and jarring operation (he has a big audience of shucked meat lovers) and sampling some of the oysters his wife Andrea was in the process of smoking, Adam and his dog Derby showed us around the rest of the farm. His family owns about 4,000 acres, all of which surround the Hamma Hamma river, a fresh water source that runs straight out of the Olympic range (and happens to be flush with salmon). A few family houses as well as a horse barn sit at the eastern edge of the property near the water but just past that sits a lovely forest park, planted originally by Adam’s grandfather — his family has owned the property since the 1920s. Up the hills, Adam pointed out where they’ve harvested and replanted glades along the range — they sell Christmas trees, too.
He walked us up the river a bit, pulling out a paper bag halfway through the walk to dive into his true passion: mushroom foraging. As we walked, he darted amongst the trees pulling up chanterelles and carefully stowing them away in his bag. Though he mostly forages for his own consumption and fascination, I’m hoping he’ll stash a few into the oyster shipments that have started showing up regularly at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.
Out on the water, Adam introduced us to one of the oyster crews who took us out for a ride on the barge. A heavy duty version of our skiff, the barge can handle a large number of oysters — they use it to pull up the seed which they keep on the southern part of their farm in rack systems as well as to harvest from the beds which sit a little farther north, close to the mouth of the river. That cold rush of fresh water, Adam said, is what gives Hama Hamas their sweet and briny balance.
We got to to sample a few, of course, fresh off the knife. As Adam pointed out, a few were still in spawn mode but those that weren’t were firm and juicy.
With our appetites fully primed, Adam took us back to his cabin and made us a hearty, Northwestern lunch: bagel cheese burgers made from beef Andrea’s father grew topped with freshly picked chanterelles.
While Adam offered to put us up in his family’s guest cabin for the night, Dave and I made our way north into the Olympic range — but we’re determined to get back out soon and take you up on that offer, Adam. Thanks again for everything.