Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oysterfest, 2011: Where Oysters Educate, As Well As Please the Palate

The 11th annual Wellfleet OysterFest opened under sunny skies. It was a breezy day, but the mood was joyous. Oysterfest marks the end of tourist season and everyone is ready to party. It is the chance to see old friends, and make new ones. Here shellfisher Barbara Austin exchanges a laugh with someone who approached the Pirate Shellfish stand. Sven and I walked down as soon as I had finished serving breakfast.

Oysterfest means fun for young and old alike. Daytrippers arrived on foot, by bike, by shuttle bus from the ocean beach parking lots, and by car. Below, Helen Purcell, in her 90s, makes her way up Main with a contribution for one of the church bake sales. We saw numerous families, out for a good time. The foot traffic along Main Street was intense. Of course, the early bird gets the worm, or, in this case, the unique oyster pendant or scarf, and those in the know do not want to miss out. I picked up a felted hat by textile artist Nicole St. Pierre that would probably have been gone by mid-afternoon. Oysters were already being swallowed by eager connoisseurs. Perhaps that’s what they were having for breakfast?

Among the products for sale: felted hats, environmentally friendly soaps and candles, local chocolate, jewelry, photography, paintings, pottery, eco-tiles, fleece scarves; many T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring the familiar image of the Wellfleet oyster. The most unusual object I saw was surely this Wellfleet Oysterfest shot glass. There were wood-carving and glass-blowing specialists to watch. Sven liked the Harwich artist Geoff Semonian, much of whose work featured a whale motif. Children had their faces painted or bounced on the inflatable playground behind Prez. Hall.

A favorite stand of mine offered reusable tote bags, which are sorely needed here in town when so many people still accept single-use bags for groceries. These particular Hoistaway Bags are made of recycled sails.

We stopped at Wellfleet Waters and asked if I might take a photo for this blog. One of the vendors cried out, “Oh, my gosh! I read your blog. I love your blog!” So, of course, you get to see these two ladies, with Beth, the blog-reader, on the right. Check out the cheerful textiles they created, inspired by Wellfleet where they spend the summer.

Of course, Sven and I admired
the display of hand-painted oyster plates at Preservation Hall. The table arrangements were still up from the night before. Prez. Hall shirts were on sale out front.

I always get a kick out of the people posing in the oyster shell cutouts, don't you?

From Prez. Hall to the intersection with Briar Lane, education trumped the desire for sales. NOAA, MA Audubon, Friends of the Herring River, and half a dozen more non-profits were staging exhibitions and distributing literature. (Here a festival-goer enjoys roasted corn on the cob, an Oysterfest specialty.)

A major component of the 2011 Oysterfest was, in fact, education. Shellfish Constable Andy Koch led a tour called “Oysters = Clean Water” from 8 to 9 this morning. Attendees got to visit a real shellfish grant. From 9 to 10:30, at the pier, several scientists gave a talk to explain the two-acre Duck Creek propagation site, which will improve water quality. This is where the oyster shells are being recycled. (If you attended Oysterfest, 2011, you could not help but notice how dear this project is to festival organizers. A woman was even walking around, dressed in an oyster suit. Posted signs read, “Give ‘em back. Please recycle your shells here.”)

The Historical Society opened its new Lorenzo Dow Baker Room for Oysterfest. Sven and I were very impressed by the artifacts and furniture that had been assembled to recreate the life of a man who must surely have been Wellfleet’s most famous citizen, founder of the company that first imported bananas green, the one that became United Fruit. Sunshine streamed in the windows, making it possible to imagine a life back in another century, when town’s folk could never have believed something like Oysterfest might one day exist, not in their wildest dreams. 20,000 people, down for a weekend in mid-October? No way, the oldtimers would have said.Everywhere you looked, people were consuming oysters. If they were not consuming them, they were standing in line to buy them, or shucking them. The big event is the annual shucking contest that takes place Sunday afternoon.

If you missed Oysterfest this year, do plan to come in 2012. Plan on three days, to avoid sitting in traffic on Route 6.

An event like this takes many months of preparation, endless meetings, and incredible dedication from a handful of Wellfleetians, members of SPAT, a non-profit that fosters an understanding of the shellfish industry. To them, I say a hearty BRAVO!

The food stands, under the big tent, were better than ever. Check out this fried dough specialty from Pirate Shellfish, where the line was longer than any of the seafood restaurant booths. The live music from local bands had festival-goers dancing in the aisles. We picked up some paella for dinner and wondered if Mac's was selling yummy lobster tails on a stick, as it had for Wellfleet Boogey. I could not tell. The line was too long.

I bought a loaf of organic pumpkin bread at the Congregational Church. There was an apple pie on sale, made by my friend Denny O’Connell. Hurry on down. It may still be there.