Boston Oysters in Unexpected Places

Once upon a time, Bostonians would fish things out of the rivers or pick them up off the ground and actually EAT them. In some cases, they’d dig strange creatures out of the mud and suck the bodies out of their shells alive. Alas, the oyster pickings around here aren’t what they used to be, as the Massachusetts Oyster Project reminds us, but Bostonians will soon have the opportunity to eat things off the grass at the Common, if the new food truck accidentally drops them while you’re trying to pay.

But first, the oysters. Once upon a time, there were plenty of squelchy mud flats around the Shawmut Peninsula, the funny lump of land that was later renamed Boston. Those mud flats probably had oysters, clams, saltwater cordgrass, and hordes of salt-water mosquitoes for all I know—but the Massachusetts Oyster Project (MOP?) blogger seems to be exclusively concerned with bivalves. Today, these mud flats are known by land that was dumped on top of them between 1750-1900: the Boston Public Garden, the Back Bay, East Cambridge, and North Point Park. Have I mentioned that Boston’s topography has changed a lot in the last four hundred years?

One of the spots where Bostonian oysters enjoyed the waters was Miller’s River, which appears to persist near where the Charles River Skate Park should be under Route 93. The oysters couldn’t stand it nowdays, alas; since the Charles River was dammed in 1910, the Miller’s River has become fresh water. If you have a particularly nostalgic elderly oyster in your household, you can show it the 1777 map. It labels Miller’s River as “Willis Creek,” and shows acres of salt meadows all around the Charles. Those were good times, oysters.

The Massachusetts Oyster Project is a nonprofit seeking to restore oysters to Boston Harbor. It isn’t such an odd idea; oysters have been successfully reintroduced to harbors around New York City, and they do a fine job of filtering all sorts of unmentionables out of the water. You weren’t thinking of actually eating them, were you?

Should the MOP find its way to recreating local oyster beds, perhaps a few of their lucky little mollusks will find their way to the Boston Common, which is supposed to be getting a new “high-end” food truck as part of its face lift this summer, according to the Boston Globe. I’m not sure why Boston needs “high-end” anything in the Boston Common, which is one of the few places Bostonians can visit for free. Or are people with middle- and low-end incomes only supposed to eat at home?

Instead of class-based delectables, how about an historically accurate food truck? It could reflect the Common’s original inhabitants ca. 1641: cows, sheep, and Elder Oliver’s horse. After all, horse meat was good enough to be served at the Harvard Faculty Club up through 1985. I bet someone around town still knows how to cook it. If they don’t, I guess we’ll just have to eat it raw… like the erstwhile Public Garden oysters.

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