This October 15th and 16th, St. Mary’s County will hold the 50th Annual U.S. Oyster Festival…an event that draws people from all over the nation! It’s home to the National Oyster Cook-off and the US National Oyster Shucking Competition.
The Bay Journal highlights this year’s event:
The annual gathering is one of the oldest in the Chesapeake region, created and still sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park.
“It was a one day event back in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” said David Taylor, Rotary member and former festival administrator. “At the first festival, they claimed they had 1,000 people, and it was $2 for all you could eat.”
The festival now draws approximately 15,000 people, with more than 75 artists and nonprofit organizations showcasing displays and items for sale, including oysters prepared in just about any way possible. There many activities for children, including small carnival rides, and a nonstop variety of live music on two stages.
“It’s grown from a little festival that attracted a lot of locals to a prominent regional if not national festival,” Taylor said.
Visitors and participants have come from as far as Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana and Florida. In the ’90s, an RV group from Buffalo stopped by on their way south every year.
“There is a loyalty to it,” Taylor said. “It’s grown in size but the purpose remains the same — to celebrate the opening of oyster season in the Chesapeake Bay.”
Oysters, of course, are the main event. The festival serves up approximately 150,000 oysters each year, and the shells are used to help regenerate oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Raw and cooked oysters abound, although seafood and other Southern Maryland specialties are on the menu too. You can purchase oysters from vendors or sample top-notch recipes during cooking contests and demonstrations. Fried oysters served by the St. Mary’s County Watermen’s Association are always popular. In the Tasting Room, which was introduced in 2015, you can sample the difference between the various farm-raised and wild-caught oysters that are available in St. Mary’s County. You can also pair the samples with a craft beer or local wine.
The festival is also home to the National Oyster Cook-Off, which began in 1980. Hundreds of recipes are submitted every year, but only nine are selected to compete. Professional chefs judge the results, and the crowd selects a “People’s Choice.” Submitted recipes are compiled in an annual cookbook, and this year’s festival will include a commemorative collection of grand champion recipes from each year of the cook-off.
The shucking contest includes divisions for men and women. Contestants come from across the country, and the two winners face off to become the U.S. Oyster Shucking Champion. Louisiana shuckers have won five times.
There’s an amateur round for those with lesser skills, and all ages get in on the action.
Visit usoysterfest.com for more information.