When you say “fall,” most people conjure up images of fall foliage carpeting rolling hills, spiced pumpkin lattes and bundling up by the season’s first fire. But along the coast of South Carolina, fall is a cooler kind of summer where the season’s first fires are lit not for roasting marshmallows, but for roasting oysters. During oyster season, which runs from September through April, these tasty mollusks are abundant at almost every local restaurant along the coast. But life in the Lowcountry is all about socializing, and heaps of oysters are downed at festivals, fundraisers and backyard get-togethers where oysters are shoveled off steaming pits and onto long tables to be shucked and eaten on the spot.
The most anticipated annual festival is the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, which takes place at Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens in Charleston. Along with live music and activities throughout the day, the festival features more than 60,000 pounds of oysters, raw oyster eating and shucking contests, and a food court showcasing a variety of local restaurants sure to satisfy everyone’s tastes. There’s also the South Carolina Oyster Festival in Columbia in November and many others throughout the state.
Salty, sweet, and earthy, South Carolina oysters are as unique as they are delicious. South Carolina oyster farmers take great pride in their product, each laying claim to raising and harvesting the tastiest oysters. Even the slightest differences in water temperature and salinity can create distinct varieties, changing an oyster’s texture and taste.
“Growing oysters here in the Lowcountry is very unique, the water is super salty, we have very high salinity, but we also have marsh grass which a lot of states don’t have,” explains Trey McMillian, founder and owner of Lowcountry Oyster Company. “The ecosystem here traps a lot of unbelievable nutrients and flavor and salt in this marsh grass, which we grow our oysters next to so they taste exactly like you would think—just pure salty goodness.”
Whether you like them steamed, fried, or right out the shell, fresh South Carolina oysters are some of the best you’ll ever have.
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Jenn Rice