Before New York City was the Big Apple, it could have been called the Big Oyster. Now award-winning author Mark Kurlansky tells the remarkable story of New York by following the trajectory of one of its most fascinating inhabitants–the oyster, whose influence on the great metropolis remains unparalleled.
For centuries New York was famous for its oysters, which until the early 1900s played such a dominant a role in the city’s economy, gastronomy, and ecology that the abundant bivalves were Gotham’s most celebrated export, a staple food for the wealthy, the poor, and tourists alike, and the primary natural defense against pollution for the city’s congested waterways.
Filled with cultural, historical, and culinary insight–along with historic recipes, maps, drawings, and photos–this dynamic narrative sweeps readers from the island hunting ground of the Lenape Indians to the death of the oyster beds and the rise of America’s environmentalist movement, from the oyster cellars of the rough-and-tumble Five Points slums to Manhattan’s Gilded Age dining chambers.
Kurlansky brings characters vividly to life while recounting dramatic incidents that changed the course of New York history. Here are the stories behind Peter Stuyvesant’s peg leg and Robert Fulton’s “Folly”; the oyster merchant and pioneering African American leader Thomas Downing; the birth of the business lunch at Delmonico’s; early feminist Fanny Fern, one of the highest-paid newspaper writers in the city; even “Diamond” Jim Brady, who we discover was not the gourmand of popular legend.
With The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky serves up history at its most engrossing, entertaining, and delicious.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Big Oyster|
|Release Date: 01-09-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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The Big Oyster
A Molluscular Life
Obviously, if you don’t love life, you can’t enjoy an oyster.
—Eleanor Clark, The Oysters of Locmariaquer, 1959
In 1609, when Henry Hudson, a British explorer employed by the Dutch, sailed into New York Harbor on his eighty-five-foot ship, Halve Maen, with a half-British, half-Dutch crew of sixteen, he found the same thing Mackay would two and a half centuries later—a local population with the habit of feasting on excellent New York Harbor oysters.
Hudson was a seventeenth-century man in search of a fifteenth-century dream. His employer, Holland, would soon be in its golden age, offering the world Rembrandt, the microscope, and the stock exchange, but not, as Hudson and his sponsors had hoped, a river through North America leading to China.
A water route to Chinese trade replacing the long, arduous Silk Road was a great dream of the Renaissance. The only alternative ever found was in 1499 when Vasco da Gama sailed from Portugal and went around Africa to the Indian Ocean. All of the westward voyages of exploration had ended in failure, with endless landmasses standing in the way between Europe and China. Cabot was stopped by Canada in the north, Verrazano was stopped by the United States farther south, Columbus by Central America in the middle, and Magellan showed that it was a hopelessly long way around South America to the south. Only one idea still held any possibility and that was a passage through arctic waters.
And so Hudson was essentially an arctic explorer. In fact, he was a failed arctic explorer. On his first voyage for the British he sai