Species-wise, they are the type of oysters called Native Oysters (aka “Flat Oysters” aka Ostrea edulis.)
They have salty tasting flesh.
They will have been raised in the estuary area of the Blackwater and Colne rivers, and in tidal salt-marsh creeks and backwaters and along the northern coast of Mersea Island.
The centre of activity is the village of West Mersea on Mersea Island.
The island is about 10 miles (16 km) from Colchester, about 5 miles (8 km) long, 2 miles (3 km) wide. The island population in 1998 was 6,750 souls. It is separated from the mainland by a channel of water called “The Strood” at its south end, the “Pyefleet” at its north end. It is reached by a causeway which is underwater a few times each month.
They are harvested out of the river in the spring when four years or older, then placed in the shallow creeks to fatten up on all the food in the water that comes from the marshlands. Then they are harvested in September, washed, graded, allowed to sit in tanks to cleanse themselves, then packed and shipped.
One-third of production is bought up by Europe. In England, they are sold to restaurants. There is not really any demand for them in supermarkets yet (2006.)
The producers applied in March 2006 for European PGI status for their oysters.
Every year an oyster feast is held in Colchester.
It evolved from the St Dennis Fair, which had begun at least by 1318. It started by being held on 9th October every year (changing to 20th October in 1752, in which year 11 days were skipped owing to the calendar reforms that year.)
This was also the time of year that annual rights for oyster fishing were renewed.
Around 1790, the Oyster fishers started giving the mayor and councillors oysters for their lunch as a thank you for the licences, etc. The feast was held where the bus station is in Colchester now (2006.) On the first day of the fair, there was a private town corporation lunch for the mayor and the councillors.
In 1845, Mayor Henry Wolton expanded the lunch to 200 guests. After him, the size of the lunch varied until 1878, when Mayor Thomas Moy started entertaining again on the scale that Wolton had. Soon it became the norm to invite important government people from London to the Oyster lunch, as a way of getting their attention for a while in return for a free feast of quality oysters.
In the 1900s, other celebrities were added, then media people.
The St Dennis fair died out in 1938, but the oyster feast continued on.
The local oyster populations dropped after a very hard winter in 1947 and again 1962 to 1963.
Milmo, Cahal. Belgians shell out, Britons clam up – but will oysters win a place on food’s top table? London: The Independent. 12 April 2004.