The town of Whitstable, on the east coast of Kent has been synonymous with oysters for hundreds of years. Probably longer in fact - the Romans in Britain farmed and exported Whitstable oysters to the Imperial Capital 2,000 years ago. The Whitstable Oyster Festival Association reports that 2,000 year old oyster shells excavated in modern Rome have been traced back to Whitstable.
The town's pride and joy, the Whitstable Native Oyster (left in the photo ) is small and bluish, firm and with a clean taste of the sea. It flourishes in the shallow, coastal waters of the Thames Estuary where fresh and salt water mix and where the microscopic algae oysters eat is plentiful. The colder the water, the better the oysters so, although the native season begins September 1, hang on until at least October when the native oysters are really worth the hour and 20 minute train journey down from London Victoria. (Check National Rail Enquiries for times).
If you are planning on heading for Whitstable outside the traditional oyster season (months with an R from September to April) you can still try some oysters. Farmed rock oysters (the tan oyster on the right) are available all the time and plenty of other fish and seafood, including lobsters, are landed by the local fishermen.
As it happens, the town's traditional Whitstable Oyster Festival takes place in the off-season for natives. Oystermen are far too busy once the season opens so they celebrate in July. It's a tradition that dates from Norman times, when local fisherman held a festival and service of thanksgiving during the closed season for oysters, around the time of the feast day of St. James of Compostella, July 25.