Monks Cove Oysters
Hosted by farmers Jenny and Patrick Ross on an out-of-the-norm overcast day, Monks Cove Oysters was the second stop on Julie Qiu of In A Half Shell and my Cape Cod Oyster Tour. After seeing the WiAnno Oysters farm and before exploring Duxbury Bay Shellfish and Wellfleet Puffers Petites, we were extremely excited about seeing how their smaller two-person husband and wife process differed from the larger farm we had just come from.
The truly exciting part of meeting with Pat and Jenny is that they are so passionate about what they are doing. Both working full-time jobs unrelated to oysters, they were compelled into this world three years ago after being captivated by the concept of eating and growing locally sustainable oysters and were then pushed over the edge by a beautiful magazine feature about Moon Shoal Farms. For Pat and Jenny, this was a very natural progression. Pat had grown up in Cape Cod loving seafood and Jenny from the Connecticut who admits that she herself doesn't eat oysters but loves the oyster farming process, hard work and coastal lifestyle that she grew up with.
Because they are learning as they go, doing their research, taking "shellfish farming" courses—that gave them very few specifics noting that every farmer's process is different and that they would have to flush out the basics to really find a routine that works for them and their environmental surroundings—and filing for town licenses as they are the first and only oyster farmers in the area, they are the perfect window into the beginning stages of this oyster farming process.
"One thing led to another and we were like 'oh my god, we're doing this!'" — Jenny Ross
This oyster-centric lifestyle of theirs began three years ago when they were handed their first bag of seeds with the warning, "learn from your mistakes". Somewhat intimidated while also excited, their new lives officially began—they became oyster parents. Their first year out the gate, a rust tide came in and killed off roughly two-thirds of their farm. A bad omen, yes, but they kept moving forward.
Onward and outward, Julie and I boarded the Ross' fully restored, as they called, "ramshackle operation" of a fishing boat that they bought cheaply from Long Island and had delivered to their Gray Gables home, to go tour their oyster farm (the boat was quite lovely. They did an incredible job restoring it).
Here's the exciting part! Fast forwarding through three years of their hard work, they have two food bloggers—Julie and I—on their boat rapidly taking photos of their first-year-to-market oysters.
It was absolutely incredible to be some of the first people to sit back and taste their ready-to-market three inches in diameter oysters.
They are quite beautiful! That burnt terra-cotta clay color—like the green in the WiAnno Oysters—comes from the algae growing in their waters and clinging to their cages.
After a ten-minute boat ride, we arrived at their oyster farm. Being that their farm is consistently submerged never being exposed due to the ebbs and flows of the tides, from the boat, it simply looks like a series of buoys floating on the surface of the bay. I'm sure several people paddle their kayaks and breeze by on their motor boats daily without knowing what lays underneath them—don't worry, that doesn't harm the oysters in any which way.
Using a very intensive manual process, the couple sprang into work. Knowing exactly where and which cage they wanted to bring on board, they attached it's rope to the crank on their boat and used their physical strength to pull it up (this is what you are seeing in the earlier photos).
Once the cage was on board, and any oyster enemies—specifically, small hermit crabs—were discarded, we were able to see a variety of life-stages of their oysters. It's exciting to see the oysters that will be market size next year while thinking that a year ago their largest oysters were that big.
From the farm, we headed to their floating in-the-works workstation to shuck and eat oysters paired with some of their favorite beers all the while hoping to run into their often on-looking seal friend, "Monkey". When not farming, Pat likes to brew his own beers, so you know the ones he selected went perfectly with their oysters.
I'm a bit obsessed with their unique homey touches; in this case, I'm specifically referring to their shabby chic napkins—being that I love to incorporate patterned napkins into my recipe photos, I literally raved on and on about them until I got their full story which stands as a perfect testament to this couples' drive to get the job not only done but executed with finesse.
These homey napkins were used on their wedding day. Wanting all of their guests to have their own unique Anthropologie-esque mix matched napkin, Jenny set forth to make them herself. Using retro beautiful fabrics stashed away in a beloved family members basement, Jenny sewed each napkin one-by-one making sure that they all had a tag with the couple's wedding date on them—like I said, "obsessed"!
These oysters are just as truly and uniquely their own. My traveling companion Oyster Aficionado Julie Qiu noted them as, "29ppt and fantastic texture. Nice earthy minerality with a 'sea bean' finish (or so we suspect)".
Anchors down and back on land via their fantastic purple lens glasses clad neighbor Wayne's dock, we persuaded Pat and Jenny to take us to their favorite neighborhood restaurant Lobster Trap, that they had been raving about all day, about for a drink.
In going there so frequently and now having friends that work there, they had the perfect connection for their next big step, getting their oysters in the market! In fact, the week after we left their farm, their oysters would be featured on the menu! How exciting! Congratulations!
And to think, three years earlier, this was all beginning with a passion and an inspiring magazine feature!
With a quick stop at the seafood market to pick up some pre-dinner crab and seafood dip snacks and some fresh lobster, we headed back to the Ross' home.
Over cocktails, wine and of course beer, we awaited the smoker to heat up so we could sample some of their oysters grilled with Pat's homemade barbecue sauce recipe.
FYI, I'll be featuring his recipe just as soon as I get my hands on some Monks Cove Oysters!
Pat's barbecue sauce has one-star ingredient, honey it's what their three-year-old niece calls "dog sauce"—the honey that comes out of the bear-shaped bottle which she identified as a dog. (so cute! And a very delicious touch!)