I’ve been finishing up a book I’ve been putting off for a while called The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky. In one particular section, Kurlansky writes about how oystermen along the Hudson in the early days of New York found out how to teach oysters to hold in water.

Why would they need to do this? For freshness during long shipments to the West (or any place outside of New York harbor).

Since the Hudson froze over in the winter, the oyster sloops would take one last order for winter supplies along the Hudson in December. By choosing thick-shelled oysters and carefully packing them with the deep cup side on the bottom, the New York City dealers ensured the oysters would last through the winter. They even attempted to train the bivalves to keep tightly shut while out of the water. Producers discovered that oysters are educable. The grower would choose plump, large oysters and replant them closer to shore where they would be exposed for a few hours a day in low tide. After a few days, they would move the oysters a little farther up so that they were exposed for a few minutes longer in low tides. Producers continued the process, moving them every few days. The oysters learned to take a long hard drink before the water retreated and eventually would hold the water the entire time they were exposed.

This is so interesting to me because, well, without knowing much about the biological make-up of oysters, I’ve always considered the mollusks to be relatively unintelligent. And sure, maybe they are, but the fact that they can “learn” how to keep water is fascinating to me.

Anyway, if you want to read this book too, I highly suggest you pick it up.

Photo by AP