Thursday, March 31, 2011

McIlhenny's Hot Sauce A Louisiana Tradition Continues

There is a terrific little article in the economist about Avery Island and the family business making McIllhenny's hot sauce. The sauce is great on oysters and mixed into a high quality Bloody Mary cocktail. But in the days of corporate conglomerate's dominating food production the  McIllhenny's tabasco business has all the earmarks of a family business with long-term employees living in subsidized housing on an island with parks and amenities.

At consulting firm Arthur D. Little there was an old consultant there in the 1990's who had once consulted to the family about contracts for their salt mine. Avery Island is built on a dome of salt. He had a fabulous time working with the family and he did one thing that made the client extremely happy. In the long-term contract for the salt mined on the island, he had them insert an inflation clause. Shortly thereafter inflation heated up (perhaps in the post-war years.) and the McIllhenny's were protected. He received a thank you package from them every year for years afterward. 

To read the article click on this to the economist article.

Click on this link to connect to the tabasco web-site.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oyster Museum Idea to Boston Arts Council- A Potential Enhancement for the Marine Industrial Park

Richard Rush, the editor of the Oyster Information newsletter has submitted a proposal to the Boston Art Council to create an outdoor oyster museum in the Marine Industrial Park. It will portray the research, sea farming, and historic social value of oysters in Boston. Given their long but truncated history, and now coming resurgence the timing seems highly appropriate.

To help Richard make his vision reality you can like his project on Facebook.  If you are a Facebook user you can go to the Boston Art Commission Facebook page.

Then "like" the Boston Art Commission itself by clicking on the "like" button at the top right. This activates your ability to "like" the contents of any Boston Art Commission page. (they are sneaky in how they build followers eh?)

Then scroll down the Boston Art Commission site for the entry with the photo of a globule of orange balls of various sizes exploding radially outward like frozen orange paint. And Click on the title ID ART: Temporary Art for BMIP. A grid of photos of the entries should appear. Click on any one of the images -that should get you into the slide show of the images.

Once you are into the entry slide show, click to the right or left and scroll along until you see the image that says BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE OYSTERS.
At the extreme left of the image you will see a "like" button. If you click on it, you can vote for the Museum of Fine Oysters!.

You also can visit Richard's Blog and take the course to become an official "Oyster Aficionado." Here is a link to the course syllabus.

Monday, March 14, 2011

MOP and Outward Bound Apply to Start Oyster Pilot on Thompson Island

The Massachusetts Oyster Project has submitted a request to begin a pilot at Thompson Island in Boston Harbor. Thompson Island is 204 acres of rolling hills, forests, meadows, salt marshes and beaches with walking trails running through out.

This application was facilitated through the work of the National Park Service who brought everyone together including the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Outward Bound who oversees the Island. Outward Bound facilities include meeting space, educational facilities, and camp sites. I attended a lobster cookout here one summer evening and it was excellent.

If approved, the pilot would entail placinig oysters in two locations- tidal wetlands and a salt pond. Both you can see on the attached map of Thompson Island.The oysters would be used as part of an educational curriculum that would include discussions of biodiversity and the water cycle. Outward Bound staff would work with students in tracking there progress.

The island is named for David Thompson who set up a trading post in 1626 to trade with the Neponset Indians. It was then used for farming for the next 200 years.

In 1833, the Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys was moved to the island, and in 1835 it merged with the Boston Farm School Society to become the Boston Farm and Trade School. Thousands of boys passed through over the years learning trades and how to care for chickens and goats who were kept on the island. The salt pond was closed in to become an ice pond and the school established a weather station on a promontory that rises 74 feet above sea-level.  In 1956 the name was changed to Thompson Academy, which operated through 1974. To learn more about Thompson Island in the old days you can read Paul Lamoureux's Blog

Today the island is owned by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Educational Center that brings 5000 students and 3000 adults to the island.
To visit Thompson Island one can take a ferry from Spectacle Island in the Summer and details can be found here. It is well worth the trip.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Major Washington Oyster Grower Passes- Founder of Taylor Shellfish Farms

Below is a brief biography of this prominent man in the shellfish community. His Taylor Shellfish Farms grew to $50 million in sales.

Importantly, he fought to for water quality to save the oysters. Unfortunately, Boston Harbor did not have a voice for the oysters as industrialization took hold. While we cannot undo that history, we can build a new one.

Justin Taylor who died Monday at age 90, was a familiar sight to generations of South Puget Sound residents as he waded out to check on his oysters and clams.

Mr. Taylor grew up in Shelton, Wash., on the South Sound, where brackish inlets and bays recede to reveal tidal mud flats, perfect habitat for oysters and clams. At that time the local economy was split between oystering and a pulp mill that drew on the region's ample forests.  The mill employed about 400 workers but polluted the water, poisoning oysters. A decades-long confrontation ensued between pulp workers and oystermen. Unlike oystermen in other states, those in Washington had long owned their own beds and so had extra incentive to fight for them.

Mr. Taylor helped lead the oystermen's fight, including lawsuits demanding reparations after oyster harvests fell by as much as 90%. The native Olympia oysters were nearly wiped out and still haven't recovered. The mill was finally closed in 1957 after Washington state refused to grant it a wastewater permit.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Taylor and a brother established their aquaculture company. They started buying prime oyster grounds and built a hatchery that produced hundreds of millions of oyster larvae. They expanded into clams and mussels, which are grown in bags suspended in the bay.

Thanks, in no small part, to his work  Puget Sound oysters became so popular that some connoisseurs speak of "merroir," subtle differences in flavor depending on where in the sound the oysters are grown.
"There are beds—you can throw a rock from one to the another, and in one the oysters fatten up and are great. In the other they will always be mediocre," Mr. Taylor told Forbes in 2010.

Skip Bennet of Duxbury and Island Creek Oysters has reported variations in Eastern oysters. And at the Massachusetts Oyster Project, we have seen large differences in growth and fauna in surprizingly short distances.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Millers River - Only a Remnant Survives

One of the areas of Boston Harbor that once held oysters was the Millers River that lied between Boston and Charlestown. The laws regarding filling were once much more liberal than they are today and basically any non-navigable waterway was easily filled. Thus, the area was filled for the Charlestown Prison and rail yards. It is now occupied by the Northpoint Development, Community College and the lovely park across from the Science Museum. There is plans for a bridge on the North side of the Charles to allow pedestrians to cross from the Charlestown side over the river and railroad tracks to reach that park.

Along the river at one time was a slaughterhouse who emptied its offal into the river. The stench and health effects were so bad that they led to the enactment of Chapter 91 of the Massachusetts general laws. Chapter 91 gives the Commonwealth the power to regulate uses of tidal waterways and is a keystone for protecting our coastal areas..

A small forlorn remnant of the River remains and can be seen in these photos taken from the on-ramp to 93 South. It is surrounded by Boston Sand and Gravel, on-ramps and T-tracks.  Unfortunately, the river can no longer support oysters as it is above the dam and all fresh water.  It makes for an interesting Kayak trip.

On the left you can see Boston Sand and Gravel.

This photo shows that some effort has been made to beautify the edges.

Harvard University has a nice 1777 map of the area, which labels it Willis Creek. Recently, I have heard that the filling of this lowland has affected drainage of areas as far North as Somerville. Given the area of drainage that once flowed through it, this is not surprising.

This view looks South to where the Miller's River joins the Charles.

There is a lovely cantilevered walkway on the North side. Sadly it is not used and has a bit of detritus, but with the opening of a pedestrian bridge that connects Paul Revere Park and North Point Park there will be pedestrian traffic making it cleaner and safer.

This photo and the one below show the abutments for the bridge. 

Along the walkways they have marked the depth of water before the area was filled. the numbers replicate the font written on the old chart. There also are a few marker plaques that are a bit dusty , but with strong content. They trace the filling in of the area and its industrial history.

Massive Potato sheds once lined the railroad tracks accepting shipments from Maine to feed the city. They are memorialized here in a monument which incorrectly dates their burning as the 1930's. They went up in 1962 and people in Charlestown smelled bake potatoes for weeks. When the author planted potatoes in his community garden plot in the late 1990's a number of the older gardeners enjoyed a good laugh. "Imagine that growing potatoes in Charlestown!"