tiny but mighty: meet the Olympia!


What's the fuss about Olys?

Olympia oysters are the only native oyster to the West Coast, and they have a long and colorful history. Their original habitat extended from southern British Columbia all the way down to (we think) Baja California. For millennia they were an important food source for Native American tribes living along the west coast. And they were a big hit during the California gold rush that began in the mid 1800s, which meant that California's supply of oysters was depleted soon after gold was discovered. Industrious oystermen turned their gaze northward for an oyster resupply, and found a honey-hole in Shoalwater Bay (now called Willapa Bay), and pretty soon had depleted that oyster population, too.

Fortunately, the oyster populations of Puget Sound were spared a similar fate because the journey by sea down to San Fransisco was just a bit too long for the oysters to survive. So, once all the gold rush dust had settled, the only remaining viable populations of native oysters were found near Olympia, Washington and the name "Olympia oysters" was born.

asahel curtis, oyster farming in south sound 1910

Olympia oysters don't really like being fully exposed by the outgoing tide... in the winter they freeze in the cold night air, and in the summer they bake in the sun... so they do better in sloughs or on the underside of pacific oyster shells. 

The above photo, which was taken in 1910 by Asahel Curtis (brother of Edward Curtis) shows early attempts to farm Olympia oysters in South Puget Sound. The farmers in this photo have built small barriers on the tideflats to retain water as the tide receded, thereby increasing the amount of habitat suitable for Olympias. 

These oysters are rare but not officially endangered, and they grow wild throughout much of their original range, including our beach. That said, their population is much diminished and there are lots of good folks working really hard to restore native oyster populations... one such group that we work really closely with is the Puget Sound Restoration Foundation

The Olympia oysters we sell online are grown from seed, which means they're sustainable (we're not harvesting wild olympias). The oysters are pretty small, as you can see in the photo below, and they're known for a coppery, metallic and sometimes very lemon-y flavor. To shuck them, use the same technique as you'd use on a Pacific species, but do it more gently and carefully.

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