Oysters on Cape Cod, Part 1

La Cucina's Oysters

Part I: The Growing and Harvesting of Oysters on Cape Cod

Oysters
Raw oysters in Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA.

Folks visit Cape Cod for a number of reasons. Some come because of our beautiful beaches with their warm sand and gentle waves. Others are looking for a quiet restful place to unwind. However, without a doubt one of the primary reasons for a visit to the Cape is our wonderfully fresh sea food.

Among the popular seafood choices are oysters an irregularly shaped mullusk or “crassostrea virginica”. Oysters are the most valuable crop legally grown in the US today. The oysters that are in the highest demand are grown and harvested right here on Cape Cod. It is said that, “like wine, no two oysters are the same.” Some are grown on farms while others grow in the wild and are plucked from their natural surroundings. Each oyster type has its unique flavor. The things that determine that flavor are its location, the salinity level of the water or in the case of farmed oysters, the growing methods. The temperature of the water, the water’s current and the mix of freshwater/saltwater mixture are also factors. Also, whether the oyster comes from the Cape Cod Bay side or the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Sound side of the cape is also a factor. Even if the seed oysters come from the same hatchery, the conditions play a greater role in the flavor.

Some interesting facts about oysters are that they reduce when the water gets warmer. Also, they change gender one or more times during their lifetime.

This area has a number of oyster breeding grounds; Dennis, Osterville, Cotuit, Wellfleet Bay, Brewster and Barnstable Harbor.  Each of the oysters harvested from the above locations, has its own unique taste. In addition, the cape’s unpredictable weather can affect the crop from year to year.

When oysters are farmed, the seedlings can be purchased from a hatchery or they can be collected right on site. The growers set them up on what are called “hats”. I think that they got their name because they look like a very tall stove pipe hat. The surface of the hat is coated with a lyme and concrete mixture. The concrete is used so that the oysters will adhere to the hat and the lyme because the oysters use it to build their shells.

La Cucina's Oysters
This is E.J. one of the fine bartenders at La Cucina sul Mare. He is serving one of our favorite appetizers, Oysters Rockefeller. I always enjoy their presentation.

Many people think that the larger oysters are the best, however, one can find an oyster with a large shell with little meat inside. The goal is to have a regulation sized oyster. That is one that measures three inches at its widest point. Also, the experts seek out the ones that have a deep curve in the belly of the shell. This indicates that it will be meaty and plump.

When harvesting oysters, farmers will usually set up a bin system. One bin each for ‘ready-for-sale”, “not quite ready”  the third for “tossing” and the last is designated as “no good”. Then some farmers sort even further. They sort by restaurant because they know what each chef prefers.

In Wellfleet there is a farm that is located next to a wild bed. The oysters taste the same. The difference is that the farmed or managed oysters have a much higher yield. That is because the oysters are grown in cages, in mesh bags or on trays. thus they are protected from predators. Also, the farmers guard against over crowding.

The six month oyster growing season is from May through October. Basically there are two methods of  growing oysters. One is called, “intertidal”, which is when the oysters can sometimes sit for hours at a time out of the water when the tide goes out. The second method is said to be “sub-tidal” which means that the oyster spends its entire life submerged in water.  Sub-tidal oysters tend to grow more rapidly because of their constant flow of water and thus, a food source. Many people believe that the deeper colder water gives the oyster a more desirable briny flavor. As for the intertidal variety that grow more slowly because they do not have continuous access to food during the time that they are out of the water. However, it is believed that the strong rays of the sun and more rapid fluctuations in air temperature, bake off harmful organisms on their shells. Farmers also have easy access to the crop with the sub-tidal variety.

The oyster farms are all on areas that are designated government grants. Some are as large as 34 acres. the “Cotuit Oyster Company” is family owned and one of the oldest. The farm dates back to 1857 and has five aqua culture grants. The seedlings are placed into floating bags where they take advantage of the nutrient rich surface water. The bags protect them from predators. When they reach the desired size they are planted on the bottom where they complete their live cycle before being harvested and sorted.

Because oysters are adaptive to their environment, they are capable of thriving in both high and low salinity waters. The average seawater salinity is 35 parts per million. However, in the waters of Dennis the salinity is 32 ppm. That means that the oysters grow a little slower than those grown in Wellfleet Harbor where the salt water mixes with fresh. There the salinity level is as low as 27 ppm. In that situation there is more algae in the water. Algae is the oysters’ favored food, therefor the Wellfleet oysters grow more rapidly. The Weelfleet oysters’ sweet aftertaste is said to be due to the its saltwater/freshwater habitat.

Another interesting fact about oysters is that they are known as, “filter feeders” which means that they draw seawater in, filter out and consume the algae and expel clean filtered water. One oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day. Oysters are good for the environment.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day sampling Cape Cod’s oysters, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.

Cape Cod’s Long Point Light

Long Point Lighthouse

Long Point Light

By Mary Moran

First settled in 1818, Long Point is located in Provincetown, the furthest town east on Cape Cod. Long Point’s location, right off Provincetown Harbor, contributed to a growing fishing industry in the area. As the industry quickly grew, so did the population, and consequently, so did water traffic coming and going from the busy fishing port. It was eventually decided that a lighthouse located at the harbor’s entrance at Long Point, would prove beneficial to navigation.

Long Point Lighthouse
Long Point Lighthouse (Photo Lori L. Stalteri, Flickr)

In 1826, the first Long Point Light was lit. The light was simply a lantern, sitting 35 feet above water level, which rested on top of a keeper’s dwelling. Its fixed white light could be seen up to thirteen nautical miles away and helped to bring mariners safely into Provincetown Harbor. In 1830, Long Point Light was used as a school building. There were about 60 students enrolled in classes. However, after the Civil War, population in Long Point greatly diminished, which ending the necessity of the make-shift school. The population dwindled down so much that most of the houses were actually floated on barges over to the west end of Provincetown.

Although Long Point was no longer a flourishing fishing community, upkeep on the lighthouse continued and in 1856 a sixth-order Fresnel lens was installed in the bright lantern. However, in 1873, during a routine inspection, it was decided that the lighthouse and keeper’s house should be completely rebuilt. The inspectors feared that an angry storm would wash the old lighthouse away. Thus, $13,000. was appropriated for the project and by 1875 the original Long Point Light was replaced by a 38-foot brick structure, containing a fifth-order Fresnel lens and sporting a fixed bright white light. While construction was under way, a brand new 1 ½ story house was built for a light keeper, and a fog bell, weighing in at 1,200 pounds, was also installed with its own building. In 1904, another building was built, this time for oil. Making Long Point Light a four building property.

As time and technology have advanced, Long Point Light has undergone many upgrades. The light was automated in 1952 along with the installation of a new 300 mm modern optic to replace the outdated Fresnel lens. Thirty years later, and after many more advances in technology, Long Point Light had solar panels installed. The light station did suffer a loss at that time, both the keeper’s house and fog signal building were destroyed in 1982 during the installation of the solar panels.

Today, the Long Point Lighthouse remains a navigational aid to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation controls the restoration and maintenance of the station. The grounds of the Lighthouse are open to the public, accessible by a shuttle boat that runs regularly in the summer. Although the lighthouse itself is private, one can still take a look from the outside and watch the stationary green light shine off into the open sea. For more information on the History of Long Point and areas surrounding, be sure to check out the exhibit in the Provincetown Heritage Museum while visiting the town!

An interesting Long Point Light fact:

Proof of a dedicated light keeper : One of Long Point’s keepers, Thomas L. Chase, once rang the fog bell by hand for a consecutive nine hours in intervals of thirty seconds when the mechanism controlling the ringing tragically broke during a patch of dense fog that was passing through the area.

 


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures on Cape Cod, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.

Martha’s Vineyard’s Edgartown Lighthouse

Edgartown Light at Dawn

Edgartown Lighthouse

By Mary Moran

Edgartown Light at Dawn
Edgartown Light at Dawn (photo courtesy of Rfgagel, Wikimedia Commons)

In the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s, whaling was a major industry on the east coast of America and particularly along the Massachusetts coast. In fact, during that time, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket owned approximately a quarter of America’s whaling fleet. There were one hundred local Edgartown men who were captains of these whaling ships and many others served as first-mates and crew. Maritime traffic around the island was dangerous and became more so with the addition of the increasingly larger fleet of whaling ships. When the industry was at its peak in 1828, funds in the amount of $5,500 were appropriated to build a lighthouse at the entrance to Edgartown Harbor, in order to increase visibility and safety on the open waters. The land on which the lighthouse would sit was a bit less expensive than the lighthouse project itself. The land cost was only $80.

The new light station consisted of a two-story home with a lantern on top. Its fixed white light could be seen up to 14 miles away. The location of the light station was offshore on pilings. This made it necessary for the light keeper to row to the mainland to get supplies. In 1830 a wooden causeway was built that led to the lighthouse as a result, getting basic necessities to the property was a much easier and safer task. However, a short time later, in the late 1830’s, the light house was showing signs of rot and had begun to crumble.

For the next twenty years, the Edgartown light would undergo several repairs and upgrades. A stone breakwater replaced the wooden one in 1847, and in 1856, the Edgartown light had a fourth-order Fresnel lens installed. Other additions to the light station throughout the years included a storage building, an oil house, and a fog bell. However, a fierce hurricane in the autumn of 1938 blew through the area and destroyed all of the old buildings. The only remaining structures on the property were then demolished when the Coast Guard took over at the station the following year. Replacing the old lighthouse would be a bit of a chore. The people of Edgartown rejected the idea of a “skeleton” tower, which would destroy the sentimental beauty of the picturesque light station. With the skeleton structure dismissed, it was decided that the lighthouse that was located in Ipswich, Massachusetts would be moved to  Edgartown. In order to transfer the giant, unwieldy structure, the tower had to be taken apart and sent in pieces by barge to the Vineyard.

When assembled, the new tower stood 45 feet above sea level and was made of a much more reliable material: cast iron. The light itself produced an automatic flashing red light every six seconds. All in all, the Edgartown light station had undergone a serious makeover. In 1985 the lighthouse and its property was leased to he Vineyard Environmental Research Institute. Under their command, Edgartown light was fitted with a new plastic lens run fully on solar power. In 1994, the lease was once again transferred; this time to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

In 2007, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum received funds, from the Community Preservation Act, in order to fully restore Edgartown Light including such simple but major additions like windows and a staircase (there was only a ladder leading up to the light before that time).

The grounds of the Edgartown Lighthouse are open to the public year round with a much easier commute than the one made by the original lighthouse keeper. Because sand has gradually filled the break between the light and the mainland. The lighthouse itself is open for the summer season from late May through mid October. Hours of operation are available online.

In 2001, a memorial was established at the base of Edgartown lighthouse in honor of children who have passed away. For information or to donate to the Martha’s Vineyard Children’s Lighthouse Memorial:

Children’s Lighthouse Memorial
P.O. Box
Edgartown, MA 02539


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of sight seeing on Cape Cod, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.


Mary Moran is a Falmouth native and knowledgeable about Cape Cod. In addition to writing for the Palmer House Inn, she’s also frequently at the inn and available  to answer quest’s questions. She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time exploring Falmouth’s coastal waterways.