As some of you prepare to head to New Orleans for Scaling New Heights, I am absolutely sure there is one vital question on your mind, “So Murph, what about the ‘Oyster “R” Rule?” I mean there are more important things to think about than 'conference topics' and 'session decisions' and 'downloading the App!
When it comes to the 'R-Rule', I have to go way, way, way back in history. I am talking about even before Joe started teaching QuickBooks.It all begins a long time ago (80 BC, or so) with Marcus Tullius Cicero who was a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. Most people just know this brainiac as ‘Cicero’.
Now the Romans were big fans of seafood and oysters, especially ‘raw oysters’; they were a delicacy for the aristocratic class in Rome, including the Emperor. The Romans had figured out a way to pack the oysters on their journey from the sea to Rome (but not as we would pack them today, we will get to that in a bit).
Even though the lower classes ate oysters all year long, the Roman elite had noticed a trend that many people became sick when eating them during the summer months, and so the aristocrats quickly adopted the practice of no longer eating oysters in warmer months (the supposed birth of 'the R rule'). Cicero found himself of a mindset to examine why people in different places had distinctly different outcomes when eating oysters in the summer time, he actually wrote about it in a few journals.
It turned out to be a combination of factors. If you lived near the shore and could afford really good quality oysters from deeper cooler waters, or if you visited one of the Mediterranean islands and partook of oysters there, you rarely ever got sick. But if you lived inland, even when eating the highest quality oysters, or you could only afford the scraps (so to speak) while living along the shore, you frequently got sick during the summer if you ate oysters.
Of course today we know the answer, oysters from deeper, cooler waters are less likely to be contaminated, and oysters that are properly refrigerated after harvesting are less likely result in ‘bad oysters’ due to bacterial growth.
As smart as he was Cicero had no concept of refrigeration, nor real principles of sanitation. The best oysters from deeper waters couldn’t make their way to Rome in the hot summer sun without spoiling along the way. And those ‘cheap oysters’ sold along the store, well as is event now the case, so it was in Cicero’s days, people went down to the beaches in the hot summer months to swim in the cool waters, but their lack of sanitation resulted in contamination of coastal waters and so too the ‘close in’ oyster beds.
Today, very strict refrigeration and oyster handling requirements are mandated by both State and Federal agencies, especially in the ‘Non-R’ Summer months of (May, June, July and August). Health officials today understand what Cicero didn’t know, but may have suspected, and so they govern the harvesting and transportation of oysters with specific safety precautions.
When it comes right down to it, while Roman aristocrats might have followed the ‘R-rule’ when it comes to eating oysters, especially ‘Oysters on the half shell’ (raw oysters), statistics show that you are more likely to win the lottery than you are to eat a bad oyster.
Next thing you know, someone will be suggesting that we don’t eat Turkey simply because it isn’t November.
Of course, if you are still concerned, there are more ways to eat oysters than ‘raw’, you can try them steamed with melted butter, fried with cocktail, tarter or rémoulade sauce, bar-b-q’d, baked, Chargrilled, Oyster-vodka shooters (a variety of options), fritters, broiled, smoked, poached in white wine, in stew, Perloo, Leruth, Dupont, Gilhooley, Rockefeller, Bienville, Remoulade; and that’s just a few of the many, many ways to enjoy oysters (in months with or without an ‘R’). I have just made myself so hungry I can hardly stand it.
By the way, I am sure you will find me at the "Original" Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville St.) in NOLA, stop by an slurp, fork or shoot one with me.
Required disclosures (because the lawyers insist) - Consuming raw or undercooked foods including poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of food borne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions. There is a risk associated with consuming raw oysters. If you have chronic illness of the liver, stomach or blood, or have immune disorders, you are at greater risk of serious illness from raw oysters, and should eat oysters fully cooked. If unsure of your risk, consult your physician.