Anatomy of a Chuckatuck oyster roast
Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006
It is only a two-hour event, but it takes days of setup, take down and cleanup. It requires the services of all club members and many volunteers, to whom we are grateful.
Every year, rain or shine, it is a sellout. A thousand and fifty tickets were sold and most showed up with huge appetites for an unlimited meal of steamed oysters, raw if you desire, clam chowder, hot sauce and crackers.
Oh yes, unlimited beer, but I only saw one person imbibing, and I don’t understand all that traffic to the portable toilets … it must be the oysters.
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Every Ruritan member is a specialist and gets the same job every year until … age is the primary factor, and the stronger ones get to ferry, via wheelbarrows, the steaming oysters to the &uot;dining tables,&uot; more often referred to as troughs. Each of the eight tables is a hundred feet long, and under them are containers for trash and others for oyster shells, because we recycle the shells back in the rivers to encourage more oysters. Incidentally, ours came from Texas.
Ruritan experts make the clam chowder from scratch in a special cooker. The oyster cooker is a cinderblock firebox, four feet wide, 42-feet long and about three feet high, completely filled with burning coals. On top are 5/8-inch thick steel plates, the length of the cooker. Near the middle is the truckload of oysters, about 130 bushels, and these are dumped on a steel-bed truck, washed with a fire hose, and then attacked by several husky men armed with large shovels, who spread them the length of the cooker.
The oysters are quickly covered with wet burlap bags and allowed to steam till perfect. At a signal from the crew leader, the bags are removed, thrown back in barrels of water, and the cooking crew then shoves the oysters off into wheelbarrows. I should mention that on this crew are School Board member William Whitley and Suffolk Councilman Joe Barlow.
The oysters are then wheeled, the toughest job, to waiting customers at the tables that are spread over an acre.
The patrons show about 3 p.m., are served at 4, and don’t stop shucking until 6. It takes them another hour to finish up and head home.
Then the Ruritans tackle the cleanup, that lasts until well into the night. It’s a tired bunch that will still be cleaning up the next day.
Money? Yes, we make some, and every cent goes back into the community. It’s a fun day, in spite of the hard work, and we are already making changes to make it run even smoother next year.
In a way it reminded me of a shad planking on the Eastern Shore, because a few local &uot;hope-to-be council members&uot; put in an appearance, as do politicians. I doubt very much if there were more than a handful of Suffolk votes in that crowd … they come from everywhere. And they arrive hungry, dressed very casually and sporting heavy left-hand gloves and oyster knives … no time to shake hands.
It is easy to spot any candidate for any office … they do not eat or drink, and they obviously are not dressed to risk oyster juice or hot sauce splashes. One even brought his campaign manager, wearing a tie. We do not allow campaign signs, etc, but if they buy a ticket, they are welcome. Besides, when they don’t eat or drink, the others get more … not that anyone leaves unsated.
I enjoy this event as I do the Chuckatuck Firemen’s fish fries twice each year. Get-togethers like this meld the community citizens. Everyone benefits; the price is always right; profits stay right there where they belong. The ambiance is great, and this year even Mother Nature was kind to us. I will say this … I don’t want to see another oyster until next April.
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