Remember back in January when I talked with Jim O'Connell about pitting oysters? Well, it's time for another oyster job.
That up there is a tumbler. Its job is to knock the oysters around—to chip off the bills and the beaks and any other brittle shell around the edge, and to channel the oysters' energy into growing a cup that is thick and deep and round.
This is what wholesalers are looking for. This is what restaurants want to buy and oyster lovers want to eat, and this is why every July, Jim spends the month hauling bags of oysters into his truck and back home to his tumbler from his grant. He has 500 bags, and each bag is filled with about 200 oysters. He can tumble about 20 bags in a day, which means that the whole process takes about 3 weeks, start to finish.
This year, he started early. Everything's been early this year, and oysters are no exception. You want to start tumbling when the oysters start throwing an edge—when they start sending out shell fast, when they start really growing.
The tumbler itself is an 18-inch diameter barrel 9 feet long. You put different size stainless steel panels on it depending on how big your oysters are, and it knocks them around and then sorts them by size. This means that when it comes time to harvest a bag for sale, the oysters are already organized.
Jim says not everyone tumbles their oysters with a machine. Some people do it manually, shaking the bags out on the racks on the grant, and he does this too. A little of it gets done by mother nature with the winds and the currents and storms and the tides. But Jim likes to use the machine, he says, for the look and the cup and the feel of the sides.
He grows a nice oyster. That up there is one of his, and you can see how the cup and the width are about half the length—this is what's considered ideal. It doesn't change the taste, but it can make for a bigger meat—something to think about next time you're oyster shopping.
P.S. For a little bit of history on oyster tumbling, click on over here.