Shuck yeah! Oyster festival is back on Main Street

May 28, 2023

There are many ways to shuck an oyster, but Dale Leavitt, co-owner of Blue Stream Shellfish in Fairhaven, thinks he has the perfect method.

While most shuckers start at the hinge, which connects the two halves of the shell, Leavitt wiggles his knife into the bill, where the two halves meet on the oyster’s wider end. With a clean split, the shell comes open, revealing the slimy, shiny, succulent strip of prized meat inside. 

“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” said Leavitt, a retired professor of shellfish at Roger Williams University. “I don’t know when I crossed that threshold from bumbling to efficient.”

“After I retired,” he said, “I thought, ‘What the hell? I might as well start an oyster farm.’”

Nowadays, he doesn’t even notice the fishy smell.

Leavitt shucked hundreds of oysters for hundreds of hungry customers at the seventh annual Wareham Oyster Festival, which took over Main Street on Sunday, May 28. 

This was the first oyster festival since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Leavitt spent the day shucking with Mike Ward, who co-owns Mattapoisett Oysters with his wife, Kimberly. 

“They taste like the sea,” Ward said of his oysters.

Despite coming from adjacent waters, Fairhaven oysters and Mattapoisett oysters taste quite different because of the different single-celled organisms they eat.

“Would you like me to recite all of the genus and species of them?” Leavitt asked. 

With his professorial knowledge, he can — and did — recite them all. 

So what makes the oysters taste so good that, throughout the day, the line of customers waiting for Leavitt and Ward to shuck them never went down in size? 

That’s a question that not even a professor can answer. 

“You’ll have to ask the consumers,” Leavitt said. 

Consumer Rebeka Dunn sucked down oysters while her 11-month-old son Oscar sucked on his pacifier. Oysters were not a common snack during Dunn’s childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“When you move up from inland, they’re just so fresh and good,” she said. 

“They’re just fantastic,” said Nick, Rebekah’s husband and Oscar’s father. “They slide down smooth.”

Nick said that Oscar likes oysters, too. 

At the festival, oysters came fried, stewed, with lemons and cocktail sauce, on pizza and as artwork. 

Artist Ginny Lewis loves painting oysters as much as she loves eating them. She finds the shells “gorgeous.”

“I painted an oyster once,” she said, “and once I painted that oyster, I thought, ‘Nah, I can do better than that!’” 

She has been painting them even before the first Wareham Oyster Festival. When she heard that the festival was coming, she thought to herself, “I got some oysters!” 

Lewis started out by painting realistic shells, but has recently gone “on the wild side,” drawing shells in fantastical pastel colors.

“You gotta have fun, you know?” She said. 

Deb Corsino uses decoupage — a technique involving layers of glossy glue — to hand-paint flowers, starfish, coral reefs and Santa Clauses onto gilded oyster shells. 

Her husband liked to eat oysters, and the craft started as a way of making sure that the shells didn’t go to waste.

Linda Filkins’s 8-year-old, four-pound teacup Yorkie Lily Joe also loves seafood.

Lily Joe enjoyed the oysters at the festival, but, as Filkins explained, “her favorite is lobster.”