"A Geography of Oysters" is the guide that I've been looking for. I love raw oysters, but they have a mind-boggling number of names and farming methods that I never could sort out. The people selling them are of limited help. I've read books about oysters, but they said little about particular species or origins. Now Rowan Jacobsen has made sense of it all in this practical guide to oyster eating in North America. Like European wines or single malt whiskies, oysters taste like the place they come from, so Jacobsen takes us all over North America to learn how and where 132 common oysters are farmed. Although there are some recipes in the back, "A Geography of Oysters" is primarily dedicated to raw oysters, so this is for those of us who like to slurp the slimy things out of their shells.
The guide has three parts. The first, "Mastering the Oyster", tells us about the 5 species of oyster that are cultivated in North America, explains the life cycle of an oyster, oyster harvesting, farming, and hatcheries, how different methods of cultivation affect texture, taste, and shelf life, how and why season and place affects taste, and how modern aquaculture has created an environmentally beneficial, diverse oyster industry. It's a solid introduction to oysters. The meat of the book is the second part, "The Oyster Appellations of North America". This is where we get an ostreaphilic tour of the continent. For each region, state, or province, Jacobsen provides a history of oysters in that region, followed by how, where, and other particulars for the major oysters in that area.
The final section, "Everything You Wanted to Know about Oysters but Were Afraid to Ask", gives advice on how to choose an oyster, storing oysters, shucking oysters, serving oysters, wines that go well with oysters and those that do not. Jacobsen prefers his oysters raw but offers 21 recipes -which will presumably be reserved for those unfortunate occasional bland oysters. There are several recipes for mignonette to top your oysters, oyster stew, and oysters roasted, baked, fried, pickled, and even drunk. That's followed by notes about safety, nutrition, and a helpful list of oyster bars, festivals, and growers that ship direct. As the man says, we don't eat oysters because we are hungry. We eat them to experience them. "A Geography of Oysters" will help you experience more oysters.