Robb Walsh is a Houston food writer who has written extensively about that City’s various food cultures. He has recently authored a book about oysters that is titled “Sex, Death, and Oysters, a Half Shell Lover’s World Tour.”
In that work he details how oysters have been enjoyed by historical figures such as the Roman Emperor Nero, the French King Louis XIV and have been referenced in literature for centuries.
Walsh writes of how oysters have been eaten in what is now the American gulf south region for thousands of years and plays an important role in the culinary and cultural traditions in the coastal areas of Louisiana, Maryland and Texas today.
The author also takes us on a tour of oyster festivals that are held in England and Ireland and writes about the diverse people he encountered at those events who share a love of oysters.
It is unfortunate that Walsh did not attend the oyster festival that is held in Frederick on an annual basis. For while that gathering may not be as large as the ones that Walsh wrote about, he would find a fondness for oysters there that is comparable to what he discovered at the festivals he attended.
The Frederick event, which will be held on the afternoon of Feb. 22 this year, brings bus loads of people to Frederick, which is the county seat of Tillman County. From throughout Oklahoma and north Texas, people partake of raw and fried oysters, cole slaw and soft drinks.
Walsh made several trips to New Orleans while doing research for his book and he details what is known as “Oysters Rockefeller” came into existence in Antoine’s Restaurant in that city in 1939 when a chef prepared a dish of fried oysters that were so rich that it was given the name of the wealthiest man in America at that time.
While the fried oysters served at the Frederick event have not resulted in a dish for “Oysters Gates,” the taste and flavor has gained them a devoted following of people who come to the festival every year to devour them. In addition to a fondness for oysters, those attendees may have also developed an affection for the warm and courteous people of Frederick and Tillman County.
According to Haley Hoover of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce, the Frederick Oyster Fry and Festival grew out of a tradition started in the neighboring town of Manitou in 1952 when a resident of that community brought a sack of oysters with him when he returned from a visit to the Texas gulf coast. He shared them with his friends and neighbors and at their urging, he purchased another sack of oysters the following year. It soon became an annual event, but it eventually grew too large for the small municipality of Manitou.
In 1990, the festival was officially moved to Frederick. Attendance has grown every year since that time and the event now includes an all-day arts and craft show that features artists of various backgrounds from Oklahoma and Texas.
Robb Walsh has written extensively about the Hispanic culinary traditions that have been brought to the Houston area in recent years and he includes in his book a recipe for “oyster nachos.” Many of the Hispanics who now reside in the Frederick area attend the festival and Spanish is now frequently heard at the gathering.
As Walsh’s title suggests, he documents how oysters have been considered an aphrodisiac throughout history, but he concludes that there is no scientific basis for that assertion. But the locals in Frederick who have watched couples leaving the event for more than two decades with smiling faces after consuming oysters may have reason to question Walsh’s conclusion in that regard.
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.