Last week's blog about slough oysters asserted that they need no recipe beyond "steam or broil." I am a little afraid these years to eat them raw, walrus-and-carpenter style. But some suggest a recipe would be welcome. So here is the basic mid-Atlantic oyster soup, which is at its best with slough oysters because of the odd little crabs that share the shell with the host oyster. First, open your oysters. Oysters have a weaker hinge than many shellfish and the hinge has a particularly weak spot, so a blunt short-bladed heavy oyster knife and a pair of utility gloves, and a little experimentation, will make you an expert pretty soon. Dump the oyster, its liquor or juice, and the nearly translucent crab which we hope will also be present, into a bowl. Repeat 12 times. You now have a dozen oysters and hopefully nearly as many miniature slough crabs in the bowl. Now put 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of half-and-half or cream, and a pat of butter in a pot on low heat. Add a couple of shakes of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper, and your shucked slough oysters. Turn the heat to medium and wait for the milk to start steaming. The only complexity to this recipe is the need to keep the milk from boiling. Boiling will scald the milk and cut back sharply on the flavor. The cook has to watch the pot slowly reach a steaming heat. When it is apparent that the pot will boil in just another minute or two, and the crabs have turned pink, and the oysters are now firm, it is done. Serves two. Eat at once. Some people put oyster crackers into this. No harm done. This recipe works equally well if you just have regular non-slough oysters, but it is more entertaining and even tastier with little pink crabs in it.
Winter comes and goes around here. It has been reasonably cold or at least chilly for a few weeks but yesterday the temperature shot into the 60s F, and should reach 70 F or higher today. This caused high winds and then a torrential warm rain this morning. Things are warm, gray and soggy now. It could almost be summer. I used yesterday's glorious weather to resume the rockwork in the new rock garden. The rock I had to work with was mostly Catoctin-type greenstone from Albemarle. When this rock first flowed out as lava from volcanoes probably very similar to Mauna Loa or Kilauea it would have been a magnificent building stone, had any building been on the agenda 600,000,000 years ago. That's actually just a rough date. Individual rocks may vary and continents may settle during shipping.
Unfortunately for my wall project, the ancestral Catoctin or Blue Ridge basalt was buried, heated and compressed into amazingly dense metamorphic greenstone. Sometimes you can see the original bedding and sometimes a bit of this rock will split out into nice flat slabs or blocks, but for the most part it comes in big irregular chunks that weigh too much and do not really stack well. My walls made out of this rock tend to have a roughly triangular cross section with a row of three rocks, then a row of two, then a top row. This produces a low, rough wall composed of irregularly-shaped chunks. There's just a hint of the original topography left in this rock. The original lava flows from the volcanoes that produced them were irregular and intermittent, and between flows lakes would have formed with sedimentary runoff, so there are pockets of mineral variation in the metamorphosed greenstone, including silica in the form of quartz among other things. This photo shows a square block of the stuff. On the front face you can see disks of white silica and on the top face you see more silica disks end-on, appearing as white streaks.
These coastal volcanoes faced an ocean called Iapetus. Iapetus was then in the condition of opening up, or widening, and had we been there giving directions we would have briefly said Iapetus was to the east just before we suffocated in the unbreathable air. Philosophically there may only ever have been one ocean, but we find it useful and rational to refer to an Atlantic and a Pacific, and ancestral oceans also need names, although the exact shape and nature of Iapetus is something yet to be argued out.
A lot of the rocks in the walls in our yard are now in at least their third different wall, since I like to upgrade my walls when economics allows. They've been hauled around the yard more than once and will probably be moved again into yet another wall someday when I improve this garden that I am now in the process of building. So I find among these mixed-up reused rocks evidence of yet another sea, the Appalachian Basin. This Devonian seaway produces dates in the 380-million-year range. In this era the Iapetus Ocean was closing up and our former east-coast location had become a west-coast location. Here is a photo of a rock I like to use as a top rock on various of my garden walls. As can be seen, shells had very much come into their own when this rock was formed. The sea shells of that era tend to be smaller than modern shells, and to be brachiopods rather than mollusks, although mollusks in the form of small clams were also abundant, as were the ancestors of squids and octopi. But I digress.
Back to our suite of greenstone-associated rocks, here is a rock I gathered from a Blue Ridge creek feeding a nearby reservoir. The blowout from the creek had plenty of greenstone but the cross section included the rock under the greenstone, the granite of an old continental shield a billion years old, making our greenstones seem less archaic than they look after all. It also included these blocks of porphyry, which on a gray day like today photographed rather plain. In sunlight these are a rich purple. In terms of the rocks mentioned so far the porphyry slabs are practically youngsters. I am informed these porphyries intruded into the old Precambrian layers as recently as a mere 60 million years ago, in round numbers, which no longer seems so very old after all. They say time goes by faster and faster as we age. I remember the days when I used to look at rocks and fossils and think of them as ancient things, almost incalculably ancient, but now they seem like the companions of my youth. They are somewhat older than me, but that no longer seems very important now.
Gary Dale Mawyer, a Central Virginia native, has over 40 years of publishing and editing experience and lives with his wife Karen and two cats in Albemarle County.
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