I have an affinity for eggs. Over easy. Scrambled. French omelets. Farm-fresh or, you know, the standard grocery-store variety. Whatever. They’re the perfect food. My culinary school teacher at CSCA, Chef Stephan, told me that every egg has the exact amount of biotin (needed by the human body) to break down the exact amount of fat found in one egg. Name another food that does all that work for you. Ok, maybe celery. But for taste?
And yes, those are hen eggs. The kind you eat. But every egg holds some sort of promise, doesn’t it? Baby blue jays. Baby snakes. Caviar. All good things in small packages.
But baby snails? That’s where I draw the line.
Sometime around the last full moon (a few weeks back) the mud snails of Duxbury Bay started laying eggs. It’s a seasonal thing and will happen a few more times before mid June. They’ll hatch and make new snails which will spawn and lay more eggs. This is the cycle we live in.
But it’s where the eggs land that just kill me.
The eggs adhere to whatever underwater, stationery surface they can find and once they stick, they’re on like glue. That could be old clam cages. Seaweed. Our oysters. In fact, our oysters are the eggs’ most favored landing place; all those nooks and crannies and divets in the shells are like warm little caves that the eggs can hide out in. Crate after crate, oysters have been coming back blanketed with these little, woolly nuisances. And it is a royal pain in the ass.
Imagine turning over a crate of a couple hundred oysters, all of them covered in a thin blanket of these tiny slivers of minced garlic. Imagine pulling out a stainless steel scrub brush whose head is the size of a post-it note and rubbing away at the mottled brown shell to get every miniature egg separated from its landing spot. Imagine tightening one fist around an awkward oyster and the other around the handle of the brush and scouring away, getting just a few eggs off with each stroke. The eggs scream off the brush, hitting you, your neighbor, your neighbor’s eye, and every other object in plain sight to the point where you see them when you close your eyes at night. Imagine trying to come up with a super-strength brine, or vinegar-based solution that will loosen the eggs but not ruin the oysters. You turn to your neighbor, who is wiping snail eggs off their face, and talk with them about this idea. But instead of coming up with a brine, you accept your fate and go back to work, scrubbing until your fore finger and thumb are blistered. Or until your eyes cross. Or until the stainless steel spokes of your brush are eaten away to the stubs.
You brush and brush only to find that all you’ve done, after a full two minutes of scrubbing and cursing, and scrunching up your face, is uncovered yet another single, ugly oyster shell.
Imagine repeating it a hundred or two hundred times to get your crate of oysters cleaned.
Then imagine this: Imagine, over the course of a long weekend, going to a restaurant (or three) and ordering a dozen (or three) of your very own oysters. Imagine the plates arriving to the table, all sparkling and clean and covered in ice and lemon wedges. And you go to pick up an oyster, ready to slurp it down. And your finger, feeling its way around the edge of the oyster, finds the tiny, softened woolly fleck of snail eggs. You look closely at the shell and they peek out at you from a darkened crevice, staring you in the face.
Of course, you eat the oyster. And you laugh at the snail egg. And you tell it it has not beaten you and that you will kill millions of its siblings when you get back to work. The eggs are no match for your scrub brush and vengeful hand…
Maybe it’s hard to imagine. But if you can… even if you can for just one minute, then… just then, you might be able to imagine a day in the the life of a Duxbury oyster farmer at the end of May.