The city of Apalachicola, population 2,334, is the county seat of Franklin County, Florida about, 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee, and the home of the annual Apalachicola Oyster Festival.
The storied history of Apalachicola dates back to the early 1500s when it was settled and claimed by Spain. England and Spain exchanged ownership of the Florida territories until 1818 when the town was known as the British trading port Cottonton. Formally ceded to the United States in 1821, the town was incorporated and renamed West Point. In 1831 it was again renamed Apalachicola by an act of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida. (Author’s note: This was a good “move.” There are more than 18 “West Points” scattered around the country, but as far as I can tell, only one Apalachicola!)
The town boasts some interesting historical achievements. For example, one of the earliest prefabricated buildings, an Episcopal church, was erected in here c. 1837. The building’s prefabricated assemblies were built in New York and shipped by schooner to Apalachicola where it was assembled.
Prior to the rapid development of railroads, Apalachicola was the third largest shipping port on the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the town is still the home to an active cadre of watermen—oyster harvesters and shrimpers–and seafood workers who process the catches.
Apalachicola is located in the northwest part of Florida on Apalachicola Bay. Described as having a subtropical climate, the area is subject to mild winters and hot, humid summers.
The area is increasing in popularity. Tourists are attracted by the “Old Florida” quality of the town; effectively a “time capsule” of 1950s Florida (or so it felt to me). Several waterfront structures, now shuttered, easily date back to the mid 20th Century.
Throughout the mid-to late 1900s, Apalachicola oysters were prized for their sweet flavor and were served in the best restaurants throughout the southeast, and beyond.
Toward the end of the 1900s and into the early 2000s, the harvest of oysters was significantly reduced due to water quality issues apparently caused by agricultural water runoff in the Apalachicola River basin. Learning to manage and overcome these issues, the oyster business has begun to improve.
This was easily demonstrated by the crowd attending the annual Oyster Festival and consumption of fried, baked and raw oysters, along with fried and boiled shrimp. The town’s waterfront area was taken over by oyster and shrimp concessions and long lines waiting for fried, baked, and freshly shucked oysters. The day included shucking and cooking competitions, and it appeared that everything shucked and served was eagerly consumed.
Having just recently sampled oysters from the Rappahannock River in Virginia, I was eager to compare the Apalachicola oysters. But first, I am far from an oyster connoisseur. I would be hard pressed to say which is best, although the Virginia oysters seemed to have a slight salty flavor that I did not detect in the Apalachicola oysters. Fried, baked, and a serving of steamed oysters with butter and garlic (prepared in camp the night before) were all excellent.
It was clear that the crowd liked whatever they were serving. There were long lines at the oyster and shrimp concessions, with customers having to wait several minutes for the next batch of baked oysters to come out of the ovens. Diners gathered on the lawn adjacent to the waterfront to enjoy the catch.
There were games for the youngsters, several concession and information booths, and of course beverages. The Eric Culbertson Blues Band from Georgia entertained the crowd with toe-tapping tunes that had a few people dancing on the waterfront boardwalk.
The Apalachicola Oyster Festival is held every January when the oysters are at their best. The event is free to attend, but expect to spend $10.00 to $20.00 per person for food, especially oysters and shrimp. Baked and raw oysters were $1.00 each. Six or seven Fried oysters or shrimp served on a plate for $5.00. Beer, light or dark, were $5.00 for a large draft. Sodas, lemonade, and funnel cake were also available. Tables are scattered across the waterfront, and it was fun to sit with “new friends” and swap stories about the festival, oysters, and/or hometowns. Others simply sate on the waterfront boardwalk, watching the boats and pelicans as they enjoyed their meals.
One of the highlights of our trip to Port St. Joe was a short trip over to Apalachicola for the annual Oyster Festival. Oyster Festival Apalachicola Style sums up our impressions of the festival and some really good oysters.
Oyster Festival Apalachicola Style describes the sights and flavors of this annual festival.