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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/91

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THE CHEMISTRY OF "OYSTER-FATTENING."

"fattening" them. If the weather is warm, they will take a "drink" immediately, if not disturbed; but if the weather is cold, they will wait sometimes ten or twelve hours before opening their valves. Good fat oysters generally yield five quarts of solid meat to the bushel; but, after floating two tides or more, they will measure six quarts to the bushel. After they have been properly floated they are taken from the shell—and as soon as the liquor is all strained off, they are washed in cold fresh water—and are then packed for market. In warm weather they are put into the water with ice, and are also packed with ice for shipping. Water increases their bulk by absorption and by mixing with the liquor on the surface of the oysters. The Salter the oyster the more water it absorbs. In twelve hours one gallon of oysters, with their juices strained out, will take in a pint of water; but when very salt and dry, they have been known to absorb a pint in three hours.

Water always thickens the natural juices that adhere to the surface of the oyster, and makes them slimy. If too much water is added, the oyster loses its plumpness and firmness and becomes watery and flabby.

Oysters that have been floated bear transportation in the shell much better than when shipped directly from their beds. Oysters, too, that are taken from their shells and packed in all their native juices spoil much sooner than when their juices are strained out and the meats are washed in fresh cold water.

Long clams are not floated, but round clams are. But both, when shucked, are washed in fresh water. This cleanses them of mud, sand, and excess of salt, increases their bulk, and improves their flavor. After washing they will keep much longer without risk of spoiling. If the salt is left in them, as they come from their native beds, their liquor will ferment, and they will quickly spoil.

The above facts are gathered from the most intelligent men in the shell-fish business in Connecticut—men who have had many years' experience in gathering oysters and clams, and preparing them for home and foreign consumption. They are all agreed that by judicious floating in the shell, and by washing and soaking when out of the shell, the oyster and the clam increase in bulk and improve in quality and flavor. We will not presume to say that this increased bulk is anything more than a mechanical distention of the organs and the cellular tissues of the oyster by water; or that its improved flavor is not due simply to a loss of bitter sea-salt dissolved out by the water. Many intelligent cultivators are confident that the increase in bulk is a growth of fat; while just as many, of equal intelligence, declare that it is mere "bloat" or distention, akin to that of a dry sponge when plunged into the water. The exact nature of the change the chemist alone can determine.

The following experiments were made with oysters courteously supplied by Mr. Lane, a communication from whom was just quoted. The oysters had been brought from the James and Potomac Rivers, and "planted" in the beds in New Haven Harbor (Long Island Sound) in April, and were taken for analysis in the following November.

Two experiments were made. The plan of each experiment consisted in analyzing two lots of oysters, of which both had been taken from the same bed at the same time, but one had been "floated" while the other had not. For each of the two experiments, Mr. Lane selected, from a boat-load of oysters as they were taken from the salt water, a number, about three dozen, which fairly represented the