The Big Oyster: New York in the World, A Molluscular History

Written by Mark Kurlansky
Review by Mairead McKerracher

This book is on a most unusual theme: the history of New York, as seen in relation to the oyster beds, from Peter Minuit’s first purchase in 1626 of Manhattan and the Ellis Island oyster beds for $34, to the present day. Kurlansky gives us a very detailed account of the oyster and how it is really nature’s sieve for cleaning water. We learn that it was the Indians who first introduced the settlers to the pleasures of eating oysters. We also learn that New York threw the debris from the demolished slums into the bay and ruined the beds.

The gastronomic tastes which the immigrants brought with them brought different ways of cooking, as opposed to eating the oyster raw; many of these recipes are included. We are also told how to shuck and prepare them. The book ends with the court battles to purify the Hudson.

A very easily read book, the illustrations consist of old woodcuts and are most interesting. This is full of information and history. Well worth reading.