My morning drive through the Wentworth Valley en route to Malagash was nothing short of stunning. The fall coloUrs were still in their prime and I counted four whitetail deer in fields along the way. I was heading to Bay Enterprises where I was about to learn about the wonderful world of oysters and quahogs.
Now, I am not going to lie. I had no idea what a quahog even was, but I had heard that oysters from this area of Nova Scotia were among the best in the world. I had never tried one before either so I knew my visit was sure to be interesting.
I pulled up to the small building overlooking a fantastic view of McNab's Bay and owner Charles Purdy came out to greet me with a warm welcome. He invited me into his processing facility right away where his wife Nancy and daughter Rachel were hard at work sorting and filling an order for oysters.
Purdy has an incredible wealth of knowledge and a great deal of passion for what he does. He explained that his operation is a federally inspected plant and that they work very hard to both meet and exceed standards for quality. I could tell by the way he spoke about the oysters that he had a great amount of respect and admiration for these little creatures.
He explained they raise the oysters and quahogs (a type of clam) in their aquaculture facility to a stage where they are then able to be released into the bay. From there they grow over several years to a marketable size before being harvested.
Purdy said the oysters preferred to spawn during a full moon and joked that it was because it was more romantic. He then clarified that it was more likely the higher tides around the time of a full moon that created the preferred conditions.
I really appreciated his family's attention to detail in making sure the oysters and quahogs were the best they could be. They tapped the shells to determine if the oysters were still alive and in the shell before shipping. They made sure they were the appropriate size. They grow the oysters in their natural habitat in the mud of the bay (risking having some go astray) rather than confining them to suspended netted bags like other producers often do.
Charles explained that suspended oysters can only feed on live algae where those living naturally in the mud are able to feed on both live and dead algae - a key to quality. They even take care to place their oysters in boxes a certain way when shipping to prevent them from getting stressed out during their travels. I thought that was pretty considerate.
Before moving on to the beach I got to taste my very first oyster. I was a little afraid that I might not like the texture and didn't want to offend Purdy and his family if I gagged. Thankfully, I slurped it back successfully and quite enjoyed it. It was the best I'd ever had for sure.
Purdy sells to the general public and to chefs from all over, but this was his first year offering tours of his quahog and oyster harvesting experience. For $150 a group of four can join him in his boat, learn how to harvest oysters, dig quahogs and enjoy a few fresh samples too. I was surprised to learn that this time of the year is prime oyster season and he would offer tours right through to the end of November as long as the weather was favourable.
Being a lone traveler that day I was incredibly privileged to have Purdy show me around. I especially enjoyed the stories he told of the area's rich history, including the epic Battle of Tatamagouche Bay between British Loyalists and the French.
I probably could have lingered on the beach for hours but I thought I'd better let him and his family get back to work. Because it was such a beautiful day I decided to take my time traveling home. I stopped off at Jost Vineyards to pick up a bottle of red wine. They were almost done their annual harvest with just one small section of vines left to defend from the birds and the bears until they could finish up.
I stopped at the Wallace and Area Museum to take a short walk through their trails (as I've always wanted to do) and got directions to the Wallace Bay Wildlife Trail as well. I had heard that Wallace Bay was a great spot for birding and was excited to head there next.
When I pulled up to the trailhead there was a sign stating that the trail was closed and that visitors were to "use at own risk." I suspect that the heavy rain and flooding from a few weeks ago had a lot to do with the closure. Being the rebel that I am (insert sarcasm here) I decided to use the trail at my own risk, figuring that I would simply turn around if I encountered anything too insurmountable.
The walk was incredibly serene and I couldn't get over the variety of birds I actually saw along the way. Bald eagles, chickadees, mourning doves (I think), ducks, cormorants, herons, a grey jay and others I couldn't identify. I took my camera out more than once, but just couldn't get a decent shot.
I realized that I hadn't eaten anything but an oyster since breakfast so I decided I should get on the road and grab some take-out from the new Split Crow Pub in Wentworth before going home. I hadn't been in since the restaurant and motel had undergone renovations and new ownership about a year ago.
The food was great and the atmosphere cozy. I can imagine that it'll be a booming little spot when ski season rolls around. It's hard to believe but it won't be long.
Devin Trefry is the marketing director of the Central Nova Tourism Association. He lives in Debert.