Oysters led to Tabasco, shag carpets

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Over the years, I’ve heard several people ask, “What inspired the first person to eat an oyster?”

My initial guess is hunger resulted in a caveman eating an oyster. In those days, there were no supermarkets, Golden Corrals or Waffle Houses. Mankind, or something close to it, was living off the land, from the rivers and lakes and out of the seas. And oysters beds, not being overfished or polluted in those days, offered a bounty of bivalves.

Some caveman, probably using a bone for a makeshift oyster knife, opened an oyster, looked at it, looked at it again, then, with a puzzled look on his face, swallowed the oyster. For a fleeting moment, the caveman knew something was missing from the recipe. That missing ingredient would come years later when Tabascoman invented hot sauce, which elevates oysters to a higher rung on the culinary-classics chart.

When some other caveman discovered steam and figured out steamed oysters offered a second option when it came to consuming oysters, the original Sunny Side Oyster Bar was born. When shrimp, scallops and a fermented beverage made from grains were added to the Sunny Side menu, well, you couldn’t keep the Java men and the Cro-Magnon men away — unless, the mothers of the Java women and Cro-Magnon women were back at the caves for a two-week visit. Then, the Java men and Cro-Magnon men would have to hunt for an extra mastodon or two to feed their mothers-in-law.

That’s right; mothers-in-law have been around for years, but not quite as far back as the dinosaur days.

Let’s return to the original Sunny Side. Did you know that’s where the first shag carpet was invented? That’s right. The first cavewoman to visit the eatery decided something catchy was needed to catch all those oyster shells the cavemen were tossing on the dirt floor. Having seen some cedar shavings at the local cave-improvement store, Cave Depot, said cave woman knew those shavings would accomplish two things: freshen the air and make the dirt floor — and oyster shells — easier (softer) to walk on.

And how did pearls, which are produced by irritants (usually a grain of sand) in oysters, become so endeared to women?

I have an explanation for that. Some caveman, looking for a cavewoman to move into and clean up his man cave, offered a large, succulent oyster to a female of the species. The prospective cavewoman likely turned up her nose at the oyster (oysters don’t look too appealing), but she noticed the shiny pearl in the middle of all that oysterness. Soon, the pearl necklace was born. Years later, the little, black dress came along. That little, black dress was presented to the female of the species by a man looking for someone to move into and clean up his man cave.

Want proof? Wilma Flintstone was known to wear a pearl necklace and little, black dress from time to time. I know it’s true because Fred Flintstone told me so at Sunny Side Oyster Bar one Saturday afternoon as we watched the guys from Cave Depot install the first shag carpet made with cedar shavings.

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. Just imagine the delight of the cavemen when Tabascoman, a traveling Java salesman, introduced them to dipping oysters into red, liquid fire before swallowing them.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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