Nearly everyone knows that pearls come from mollusks, but it is very common to think of a clam or mussel, when really it is the oyster that yields these marvelous gems. According to Google.com, an oyster is a “bivalve mollusk with rough irregular sized shell”, a clam is a “marine bivalve mollusk with shells of equal size”, a mussel is a “bivalve mollusk with a brown or purplish-black shell,” and a scallop is an edible bivalve mollusk with a ribbed fan-shaped shell.
Oysters are very commonly known for their accessibility and ability to be eaten. All over the world oysters are celebrated for their ability to feed. In the United Kingdom there are annual Oyster Feasts each October in which many different companies participate. Several breweries create Oyster Stout, a beer that goes well with oysters, and sometimes even includes oysters in the brewing process. In France oysters are eaten while drinking fine wines, while Ireland it is traditional to eat them with the beer Guinness along with soda bread.
All of these mollusks although similar, all have their own roots or traditions. Clams were worshipped by the Moche people of ancient Peru because they came from the sea and provided many of the essentials they needed to survive. Scallops symbolize femininity in many cultures. The outward shell represents the protective and nurturing ability that a mother possesses. The famous painting of the Roman goddess of love and fertility, Venus, painted by Botticelli includes a scallop shell. Also, in ancient cultures a young couple desiring to bear offspring had to make a pilgrimage and often carried a scallop shell as a symbol of gaining fertile abilities.
As far as cuisine is considered, oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops can all be used as food. Oysters and clams can be eaten raw or cooked and usually come with different dipping sauces and coverings such as lemon, cocktail sauce, or a mignonette sauce of red-wine vinegar, but could also be eaten plain. They are often used to dress up dishes like stuffing, soups, or rice. Oysters sold at restaurants are given names based on the location they originated. Mussels always served cooked and are usually steamed in a white wine broth but may also be combined with other dishes. Scallops can be served grilled, sautéed, steamed or fried and can be eaten alone or within a dish.
Of course, our favorite type of oyster is one that produces pearls!