Oysters have been a favorite of Greek gourmets, since Aristotle first documented their habits and virtues in his "Zoologia". These tasty bivalves have captivated the appetites of gourmands from time immemorial, too, such as that of the Roman emperor Vitelius, who is said to have consumed one thousand oysters in one sitting. Seneca supposedly ate a thousand a week. Writers, from Shakespeare (who coined the famous phrase "the world is my oyster") to Balzac to Lord Byron, have waxed poetic about this tasty treat, too.
Still, much is owed to the acumen of ancient Greek aqua farmers, regarding the cultivation of the oyster. Although other ancient peoples, namely the North American coastal Indians, were eating wild oysters long before Aristotle documented their habits, it was the ancient Greeks who probably first cultivated them. According to various sources, the earliest cultivations date back to the 4th century B.C., to the island of Rhodes. Local fishermen apparently first noticed that tiny oysters, attached themselves to shards of broken pottery in the sea and there found a place to grow and reproduce. It didn't take long, before the fishermen started placing pottery in the sea, specifically to help the mussels flourish. Other tales point to Lesvos, where local fishermen noticed that large quantities of oysters seemed to grow but not reproduce around specific water current.
The two basic tenets of oyster farmers were hence discovered- that the bivalve can grow easily in some places but can only reproduce under certain conditions. To this day, oyster farming is based on that same principle. There are numerous varieties of oysters all over the world. In the Mediterranean, the most commonly encountered belongs to the genus Ostrea, with local species from Gibraltar to Israel; Greek oysters tend to be small and quite tasty. The best are said to be found in the many coves of Halkidiki and in the Thermaikos Gulf. A common folk belief is that oysters should not be consumed during the months whose names do not contain the letter "R" -in other words, during the summer.
Warm Salad with Spinach, Oysters, Greek Cured Pork and Peppers
(For 4 servings)
100 gr. of cured Mani pork (siglino), cut into thin, small pieces
1 sweet red pepper, cleaned and cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons of Greek extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
20 oysters, shucked (keep the juice and strain it)
400 gr. (3/4 lb.) of fresh, flat-leaf spinach, cleaned, trimmed and torn
Saute the pork in 1 tablespoons of olive oil, until it browns lightly. Add the pepper and saute for a minute to soften. Add the vinegar, remaining olive oil, salt, pepper and oysters, together with their juices. As soon as the oysters warm through, remove. Place the spinach on a serving platter or in a large salad bowl and top with the oyster-pork mixture. Serve immediately.
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