Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Urbanna Oyster Fesival

Yesterday the boyfriend and I took a drive to Urbanna for the 52 Annual Oyster Festival. This is Virginia's Official Oyster Festival and as far as food festivals go this is a fun one to visit. I don't even like oysters, and still had a great time!

Urbanna is in Tidewater Virginia about an hour and a half from Richmond. It is on the Rappahonnok River just down stream from the Chesapeake Bay which makes it a perfect spot for farming oysters (more on that later). This historic town has been around since the 17th century and is a quaint place with a population under 600. Once a year the quiet is shattered for the festival and this tiny town is overrun with thousands of visitors. The Oyster Festival is so large that they actually close the one road into town. That means that in order to attend the event you must pay $20 to park about a mile away on empty fields and then walk in. This was a surprise, but it was a gorgeous, warm November day and the walk into town is beautiful. That's me below posing with Urbanna's Marina on the walk back.

As for food, the festival was a seafood lover's dream. As expected oysters were everywhere and prepared every which way. Raw, roasted, fried, in stews, soup or served up in huge fritter sandwiches and they were all freshly shucked (see below). An oyster shucking contest was even held earler in the day.
Beside oysters, there were crabs galore. I got a bowl of Cream of Crab Soup for lunch and while it was nice, it was no she-crab soup. Unfortunately that delicacy was no where to be found. Fresh shrimp and scallops concoctions were everywhere as were fair food favorites like turkey legs and funnel cake.

By far the most amusing part of the day was when an expert oyster gardener befriended my boyfriend and I and told us everything we ever wanted to know about oysters and more. Here are the basics: baby oysters are called spats. Spats are tiny, only about the size of a fingernail, but after 10 months in the water these babies grow into full sized, edible oysters. They actually can be eaten sooner, it depends how big you like them. The spats are placed in floating cages and for the most part they are left alone. The key is to have lots of water flow running through the cages because that's where the oysters get their nutrients. Every once in a while the gardener has to go out and clean the oysters, upgrade the cage size and throw off the crabs that may have accumulated. It sounded so easy that I decided that if I ever get a place on the water I might have to try out oyster farming.

Late in the day we made our way out of the crowds and down to the water. Out at the Marina a band was playing classic rock, oysters were being smoked and locals were drinking on yachts. In my opinion that is the perfect way to enjoy the festival so if you happen to own one of those boats and need another friend let me know!

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