Tuesday, 1 June 2010

All about oysters and a dish of an idea for Budleigh beach

Oysters! Wonderful to see them in their cages, fresh and full of deep sea taste that hits you as you gurgle down that mixture of brine and soft fish flesh which many people find disgusting.

I love oysters but, as with all shellfish, a dead or contaminated one can put you off eating crustaceans for life. I first got a taste for them when staying in the Vendée on the west coast of France, where you could and I hope still can buy them direct from the producers' shacks. But a 60th birthday dinner years later at one of London's most reputable restaurants turned a celebration into a digestive catastrophe when I chose oysters for the first course.

So seeing them fresh and cared for in these pictures illustrating the work done by Americorps volunteers makes me keener than ever to cross the Atlantic to Cape Cod and taste this aspect of life in Budleigh Salterton's sister-town of Brewster.

The volunteers were working for the town's Department of Natural Resources and I'm grateful to its Director Chris Miller for allowing me to reproduce these images. His report on the Americorps young people's achievement in tidying up the coastline is at http://www.town.brewster.ma.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=971:americorp-in-brewster-last-week-shellfish-beach-cleanup-and-wings-island-trail-work-20100517&catid=72:natural-resources-a-shellfish&Itemid=98s-a-shellfish&Itemid=98
Seeing the pictures of that beautiful coastline I can't help feeling awful that it's a British firm which is responsible for the environmental devastation down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Cape Cod town is in fact famous for its clam shacks like the one in this painting 'Clam Roll and a Coke' by Brewster artist Barbara Hageman on her website at http://barbarahageman.com/
The charming unspoilt location makes me wonder why Budleigh Salterton doesn't have similar beachside locations where you can drop in for a spot of clam chowder, grilled mackerel, mussel broth or even a (or half a dozen) guzzled oysters. True, you can get traditional crab sandwiches at both the Steamer Steps and the Longboat Cafés, and the Longboat even has Crab Benedict on its menu - fresh crab topped with Hollandaise sauce at £8.95. But crab is not the only fish in the sea.

Last August it was reported that Budleigh resident Keith Beaney wanted to set up a weekend stand in the Lime Kiln car park at the eastern end of Budleigh beach, where he would sell griddled fresh fish sourced from local suppliers. Budleigh Salterton Town Council apparently said that the proposal raised health and safety concerns because the cooking process required a charcoal burning griddle, and some people who call themselves the East Devon District Council's Street Scene team also opposed the idea because they thought it could exacerbate the rat problem. That's odd because there are already permanently-erected barbecues like the one in the picture at the car park for public use. Admittedly one of them is a bit rusty and neglected-looking, but they have clearly been used recently.

Mr Beaney had apparently hoped to set up tables and chairs, with parasols, which I think sounds a rather fine idea. He planned to include mackerel, white bait, sea bass, crab and seafood kebabs on the menu, which would be available into the evening. And rather daringly he admitted that he was planning to apply for a licence to serve wine and cider.

Rather sadly it sounds as if the proposal has been dished, because as far as I know nothing more has been said about it in the local press.

I see however that on Friday 6 August Otterton Mill, just a few miles upstream along the River Otter from Budleigh is inviting people to A Celebration of Oysters, from 12 noon - 3.00 pm. "Join us for a belated celebration of St James' Day, the patron saint of oysters, by sampling this fine seafood delicacy (sourced locally from the Exe Estuary)," they say on their website at http://www.ottertonmill.com/events-and-courses/special-events-at-the-mill/q/date/2010/08/06/a-celebration-of-oysters/

"Our chefs will serve fresh oysters with delicious dressings in our courtyard, or prepared in a lunchtime special in our restaurant." To book a table in the restaurant, call 01395 567041. Or, just turn up on the day for oysters in the courtyard, weather permitting," they add.

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