Pearls on the Half Shell

By Genie McPherson Trevor 

He doesn’t till the soil, but he’s a farmer, with the hands to prove it. They are strong and weather-beaten, and surprisingly gentle when his right hand cradles an oyster and the left neatly inserts a knife into the sweet spot at the hinge. Swiftly, after releasing the shell’s pressure, oyster farmer Steve Malinowski slides the blade across the mollusk’s muscle that holds it shut, lifting the top shell to reveal the silky, opalescent sweet meat bathing in a deep cup of briny liquor. A subtle smile reveals his pride as he holds it up to me.

Standing on a dock on Fishers Island—midway between Montauk, Long Island, and New London, Connecticut—Steve proffers a few more and I don’t hesitate, knowing how easily these toothsome bivalves slide down. It’s 9 a.m. and we’re surveying the shellfish crop on the farm’s five salt-water acres. It’s a few minutes’ boat ride from the working dock, which is nestled in a protective cove off the seven-mile island’s largest, but still quiet, harbor. Part of the farm’s eight-man crew is still out setting lantern nets heavy with mature oysters, all while fighting a strong northwesterly wind coming off Fishers Island Sound.

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