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MOLLUSKS

consumed conch in large quantities and whose experi- ence preparing it stretches back over many centuries, probably showed early white settlers how to extract the meat and clean it, a special skill requiring instruction.

Even very small single shells are eaten, for example, the little top-shell of the Mediterranean (Monodonta tur- binata, of the family Trochidae) or the equally small peri- winkle (Littorina littorea, family Lacunidae), known locally as winkles and found on North Atlantic shores, both east and west, but mostly appreciated in Europe. In general, however, the appetite for single shells has di- minished in many parts of the world, largely because they are fished locally and few of the edible species have more than minimal gastronomic merit.

Nevertheless, one family among the single shells, Haliotidae, to which the abalone belong, certainly does merit attention for human consumption. There are species all round the world. In California, for example, the red abalone (H. rufescens), is probably the best known although H. tuberculata has been famous since classical times in the Mediterranean and on the European Atlantic coast as far north as the Channel Islands (where it is known as ormer in English and ormeau in French). How- ever, supplies are not abundant. Indeed, along much of the northwest coast of the United States the fishery is ei- ther closed outright or subject to severe restrictions. In Japan there is a tradition that stretches back to antiquity of husband-and-wife teams fishing for abalone; the wife dives while the husband tends the boat and the lifeline. Depending on the quality of the various species, the Japanese may eat them raw, diced and iced and furnished with a dipping sauce, or grilled and steamed. Generally, abalone is tough and must be tenderized before being cooked.

Although some abalone can reach a size of up to 25 cm (10–11 in.), they may be regarded as a sophisticated descendant of the ordinary limpet. Limpets, seen cling- ing tenaciously to seaside rocks, are much smaller and bi- ologically less complicated creatures, but are edible and utilized in interesting local recipes; for example, in some parts of Scotland people were known to mix limpet juice with oatmeal.

Bivalves

The aristocrat of bivalves, in the western world, is the oyster. This is odd because in the nineteenth century oys- ters were so plentiful and cheap that they were consid- ered to be a food of the poor. Today virtually all the oysters brought to market are cultured. In France espe- cially, there are complex systems followed by oyster farm- ers, from the initial seeding (planting on special tiles) of the spat of existing oysters through various changes of environment designed to afford protection from preda- tors and to encourage growth. Oysters thrive in the “parks” created for them, and are carefully graded before being transported live to markets. The district of Marennes-Oléron accounts for well over half the French

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production, but other place names such as Arcachon in- dicate other famous oyster areas. In England the oysters of Colchester in Essex and of Whitstable in Kent were once of great renown, but nowadays most of the oysters reaching British markets come from the south of Ireland.

What is said above relates in part to the European

oyster, Ostrea edulis. However, populations of this species have been very seriously depleted, in some places to van- ishing point, and 90 percent of the oysters now consumed in Europe belong to the species Crassostrea angulata, pop- ularly known as the Portuguese oyster. It is a native of Portugal and Spain and also known in the Indo-Pacific as the Giant Pacific oyster.

In North America, the American oyster, Crassostrea

virginica, holds sway. Like the Portuguese, it is larger than the European. American oysters are marketed under many names, indicating the place of origin, for example, Cape oysters from Cape Cod (notably Wellfleet and Chatham); Long Island (Bluepoint, Gardiners Bay), and the Chesapeake Bay area (Chincoteague Bay). Of the other American species of oyster, the best is probably the Olympia oyster, a subspecies of the Californian oyster,

Ostrea lurida.

Australasian oysters include the Sydney rock oyster, Crassostrea commercialis, which is perhaps the most es- teemed of all seafoods for Australians.

Whereas oysters are always visible, many bivalves are not. They burrow into the sand and all one can see is perhaps their “siphon” protruding, or a little hole left by the siphon. Some species are remarkably adept at bury- ing themselves quickly and deeply. The razor shells (so- called because they resemble old cut-throat razors) are among the champions in this art. They are known in Orkney as “spoots,” and “spooting” by hand is a pastime that calls for great expertise. There are many other clams in both hemispheres that live closer to the surface of the sand and are gathered more easily. Consumption is high- est in North America, where they play a leading role in the traditional clambake, which is an important feature of the seafood cultures of many coastal areas, especially New England. Kathy Neustadt explains the cultural and social importance of clams in We Gather Together: Food

and Festival in American Life. A purely practical descrip-

tion is found in the classic cookbook by Mrs. Lincoln,

Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook (1891).

Mussels dominate the European market, at least in terms of quantities sold. The waters surrounding Galicia in the north of Spain include bays that are ideal for the culture of mussels on big ropes suspended from the sur- face of the sea. By the end of the twentieth century, Span- ish exports of mussels had grown to such an extent that they dominated the market, although there is a smaller but substantial industry in the Netherlands, providing mussels mainly for consumption in Belgium. Mussels with french fries (moules et frites) is counted by some as the national dish of the Belgians; it enjoys popularity

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