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Assistant to the fryer an all-you-can-sneak oyster experience

November 08, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

All-you-can-eat oysters. It sounded like a bad idea to me, although it wasn't my place to say.

In Washington County, all-you-can-eat oysters is like advertising for all-you-can-grab money.

All-you-can-eat anything in Washington County is never a sound business model. Remember, we ate an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet out of business and I feel sure the reason it took so long to open the new Dunkin' Donuts revolved around concerns that they would be able to fly in enough dough.

But it's one of Benevola United Methodist Church's biannual fundraisers and it draws more than 700 people, so it appears to be a success - if not always pretty.

For the record, one table went through nine bowls of oysters that average maybe 10 oysters each. By my reckoning, this table alone set the Chesapeake Bay restoration back about a decade.

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And these were Very Large Oysters, about the size of a computer mouse each - rolled in cracker meal and deep-fried.

And that's not to mention the turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and homemade cakes that went with it, all for the price of $13.

The organizers of this event, not being stupid, kept me as far from the public eye as possible. They did not care to have an opinion writer out on the floor serving and dispensing one-word editorials, such as, "Oink."

We started patting the oysters with meal at 8 in the morning, a few of us whippersnappers mixed in with a delightful group of octogenarian ladies whose chatter defied traditional thoughts about what octogenarian ladies typically gab about.

Indeed, when the pastor would walk through the room, you could hear the occasional, "Shhh - here comes Helen."

When we were finished, we had rolled 54 gallons of oysters, leaving me with a sense of accomplishment but a seafood fragrance that had me fearful of going home and presenting myself to the family cat.

Beth and I returned at 3 p.m. for our shift of kitchen duty. I have made it clear to church members that, short of sitting behind a keyboard and being grumpy, I have few actual skills that can be converted into anything resembling productivity.

So they gave me about the only chore I could reasonably be assured of handling: assistant to the fryer.

I didn't like the sounds of that.

Then they gave me an apron.

I didn't like the looks of that.

Then they gave me instructions. Or partial instructions. Nelson mentioned something about arranging the oysters in the fry baskets, but was pretty much out the door before any potential Q & A on my part, making me suspicious that perhaps this wasn't the "grand marshal" of the oyster-frying parade, in terms of desirability.

But it wasn't the worst, either. That honor, in my opinion, was reserved for Dave, who did the actual frying. This is where my lack of dexterity paid off, for I clearly could not be trusted with hot oil.

My work wasn't all that bad either; I've always preferred making messes to cleaning them up. Plus, the position came with the perk of being able to scarf any fried oyster that happened to hit the floor. (Oh calm down, this is a church floor. Bacteria doesn't stick to anything that's pious.)

Only two things happened that approached a crisis. First, I almost tipped over a massive tray holding about 200 breaded oysters - but no one saw this, so no one will ever know.

The second came when we came dangerously close to running out of oysters. Aware that this could provoke the Great Oyster Riots of '07, we sent out for another half-dozen gallons and calamity was averted.

The event came to an end, and there were exactly five oysters left.

I know, because I pushed them over onto the floor.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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