OysterFest 2011

Without question, Wellfleet is my favorite place on earth.  Located on the tip of Cape Cod, It is a friendly town, rich in quaint seaside character.  Since more than half of Wellfleet’s land area is part of the National Seashore, you can expect to find some of the most beautiful beaches on Cape Cod. Even more popular than the beaches, are Wellfleet’s abundance of oysters.

The Wellfleet OysterFest is an oyster lover’s dream come true.  The annual two-day festival takes place the weekend after Columbus Day. Tents and oyster shuckers line Main Street and the two large parking areas in the center of town.  OysterFest brings together locals and visitors alike for a weekend of fun featuring something for everyone: local cuisine, educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, children’s activities, live music, road races, walking tours, and the Oyster Shuck-Off competition.  My favorite local studio, The Jewelry Studio of Wellfleet, had a tent featuring unique jewelry created by Jesse Mia Horowitz, a local Wellfleet woman.  Out of all her beautiful pieces, my favorite is an oyster pendant, which she casts out of silver using a real Wellfleet oyster as a mold.  The food choices range from chilidogs, and burgers, to fresh shucked oysters, home made chowder and Arnold’s famous fried oysters. Winslow’s Tavern, a restaurant located in the heart of Wellfleet, serves some of their best menu items at a low price to guests who pack into the outdoor area.

The Oyster Shuck-Off takes place on the main stage behind Town Hall.  Contestants are given 24 oysters to shuck as fast and elegantly as they can.   Controversial rulings have been known to fire up the crowd of thousands, as devastating time penalties are added for broken shells, massacred oysters, and blood shed from slashed fingers.  Contestants are the fastest shuckers in the area, and include Wellfleet’s commercial fishermen and chefs from near and far.    It is fun to see different shucking techniques used by the competitors.  This year, Anton Christen of Boston’s Union Oyster House brought a special shucking rock, which he used to help slam his shucker into the side of the oyster.  There were also some friendly rivalries between some of the local seafood suppliers.  A shucker from Mac’s Seafood competed against a shucker from Hatch’s Fish Market to determine which place really shucked the best oysters.  Adventurous members of the audience had to dodge flying shells in hopes of bidding on trays of the briny delicacies and eating a piece of oyster history.

At one point, someone dressed as a golden scallop rushed the stage and entertained the audience with silly dance moves as they waited to hear the results of the first competitors.  The winner of the Shuck-off earns a $1,000 cash prize and qualifies to complete in the National U.S. Oyster Shucking Championship in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  James Gray, who gracefully shucked 24 oysters in just two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, completed this year’s fastest shuck time during Saturday’s qualifiers!

Out of all the fun and festivities, I think my favorite part of OysterFest is Wellfleet’s dedication to the environment that supplies them with their famous oysters.  One key focus of the festival is to educate the public about the critical role oysters play in a healthy ecosystem.  Many educational tents could be found that featured interactive ecosystems for kids (and adults) to explore.  All oyster-eaters are asked to recycle their shells so that Wellfleet can dump them all back into the ocean.  This helps the reproduction of more oysters, in fact recyclers expect to create between three and seven times more oysters just by putting used shells (which carry valuable nutrients) back into the water where they came from.  Recycling also helps the promotion reef development in the area, which helps control erosion and provides habitat for many sea creatures.  Recycling oysters even the helps filter the water!  Adult oysters filter several gallons of water per hour, which removes particles and pollutants from the water.  Check out this PDF for more detailed information on why it’s important to recycle your shells!  It is so inspiring to see a town working together to create a healthier ecosystem in their waters.  The size of the shell recycling bins was unfathomably heaping, which brought a tear to this OysterFest-er’s eyes.

If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and delicious weekend outing, pack yourself up and get to Wellfleet’s OysterFest next year!