I was thinking of writing about Falmouth in this week’s blog and then on reading the Sunday Times Travel section Falmouth got a mention! One of the Sunday Times ‘50 Autumn days out’ is the Falmouth Oyster Festival October 11 – 14 which celebrates the start of the oyster dredging season. There are four days of cooking demos, live music, stalls selling Cornish food produce including the Fal oysters obviously, craft stalls and a Grand Oyster Parade. Last year’s festival saw 45,000 visitors. See the website to find out more www.falmouthoysterfestival.co.uk. We may be down at the Cellars during that weekend so we will try and go along.
I had heard of the oyster festival but had not realised that oyster fishing is done around Falmouth. The oyster fishing industry has existed for hundreds of years around the River Fal. It has the only sail-driven commercial fishing fleet in Europe and the oysters are caught using hand-hauled dredges. The “inherent inefficiency” of these methods is the “crucial feature” in preventing overfishing and ensuring the fishery’s long-term survival, according to scientists from the University of Exeter as detailed in a cornwallalive online article https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/cornwalls-oyster-fisheries-sustainable-due-326505 . It is great to hear they do it the old fashioned way and that this brings significant benefits.
This is one of only three oyster fisheries left in England, and the other two (in the Solent and the Thames Estuary) have experienced temporary closures to protect dwindling stocks. It used to be a much larger industry around the Fal. In 1908 there were 128 oyster boats but now there are 10.
Native oysters grow freely in the shallow waters of the upper reaches of the Fal estuary. Once caught, the oysters are purified for 36 hours before being sold. Only about one in seven oysters per catch is any good as a lot of them are already dead or they are too small. The law is that each oyster must be more than 2 inches in diameter. The ones that are not are returned to the beds to fatten.
Apparently the Fal oyster has a unique taste as a result of the rich mineral and biological content of the water in the area; salty and sweet with a light copper finish. The Fal oysters end up on the plates at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the UK but most of the oysters are exported.
Oysters are very nutritious as they naturally high in protein, zinc, magnesium and calcium plus vitamin A, B, C and D. They are also low in fat and calories. But despite all this having tried them a couple of times I can’t be persuaded to eat them again!
Whilst now regarded as one of the worlds luxury foods, oysters used to be a food for the poor which is interesting. In Victorian times they were very cheap due to their plentiful supply and pickled oysters were eaten by the poor in London and other cities and towns. But natural beds then became exhausted so making it more exclusive.
Falmouth has been listed this year as the best place to live in the south west by the Sunday Times Best Places To Live Guide March 2018. Quite an accolade! “The locations were selected for offering the best quality of life to the widest number of people, combining desirable features such as a positive community spirit, engaging festivals, good local shops and services, and attractive outdoor spaces”. The picture below shows how attractive the view is from the town. Every time we go we think it is improving. It now has a really good mix of shops, cafes and restaurants including a lot of independents. Interesting they mention festivals. Falmouth do seem to have more festivals than most towns. Not only do they have the oyster festival but also other festivals Sea Shanty Festival, Falmouth week yachting regatta, Fish Festival, Spring Festival and Summer Fest.