Food - Drink
The Rare Oyster Variety That Was James Beard's Favorite
Oysters have been a delicacy since ancient times, and of the five species of oysters, two are native to North America — the Atlantic oysters on the East Coast, and the Olympia oysters on the West Coast. Olympias, or Olys, are a favorite among connoisseurs, like James Beard who called them, "one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed upon man.”
At one point in time, Olympias were plentiful along the West Coast; enjoyed by Native populations as well as gold rush forty-niners. Unfortunately, hydraulic mining silt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and, later, harmful chemicals from the paper mills in Washington destroyed nearly all the Oly beds by the first half of the 20th century.
Today, thanks to restoration efforts, Olympias are making a slow comeback, although they are still difficult to find; per Smithsonian Magazine, it takes three to four years for Olys to reach harvestable size, even under ideal farmed oyster conditions. If you’re lucky enough to find some, try James Beard’s preferred way of butter-frying Olys for an Olympia Biscuit slider.