The oyster cocktail, a popular West Coast treat,
originated in a San Francisco restaurant around 1860 by a miner back from the
gold fields. The miner was loaded down with gold nugget bigger than ballpark peanuts.
Being hungry, the miner asked on the the restaurant's waiters to bring
him a plate of California raw oysters with some ketchup, horseradish, vinegar,
Worcestershire sauce, and a whiskey cocktail. After drinking the whiskey, he put
the oysters into the goblet, adding salt and pepper, vinegar, Worcestershire
sauce, horseradish, and ketchup. The restaurant keeper looked on with interest.
"What sort of mess do you call that, partner?" he asked. The miner
responded, "That is what I call an oyster cocktail."
The next day a sign appeared in the restaurant's
front window: OYSTER COCKTAIL - FOUR BITS PER GLASS. Within a week, every
restaurant in San Francisco was serving the new dish.
Oysters were popular with the gold miners because
most of the miners thought that rich people always ate oysters. They figured
that what was good enough for the rich swells back East was certainly good
enough for them! During the gold rush era, there was a great demand for oysters
in San Francisco, and stories were told of oysters being paid for with gold.
Originally local oysters were harvested, but it took only a short time to over
harvest and deplete the beds in San Francisco Bay.
Starting in 1850, large numbers of native
oysters, also known as Olympia oysters, were harvested from Willapa Bay in
northwestern Washington State and shipped live to San Francisco by large oyster
schooners. Nearly 200,00 bushels of oysters were shipped annually to California.
The native beds of oysters, several feet thick, were heavily harvested, and
nothing was done to help them replenish themselves. The oyster trade continued
until around 1870, when both the numbers of oysters in the Willapa Bay began to
diminish due to over harvesting and the first transcontinental railroad reached
San Francisco, bringing East Coast oysters. By early twentieth century, 85
percent of the oysters sold in California were from the East Coast.
Oysterville, a small town on the Long Beach
peninsula, was the center of the burgeoning oyster industry. For a time
Oysterville was the wealthiest town in Washington, earning it the nickname "the
Baltimore of the West."
Check out more of Linda's great
Oyster Cocktail - Oyster Shot - Oyster Shooter
If you are a raw oyster lover, wait until you try this Oyster Shooter. You will
definitely be in "Oyster Heaven!" Oyster shooters are popular
because they're breathtakingly simple to prepare and consume, and also delicious!