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Eating oysters in a month with no 'r'

Fresh oysters are served at the famous Oyster

Fresh oysters are served at the famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. (Jan. 24, 2013) Credit: Natan Dvir

Should I eat oysters now? There's no "r" in August.

Enjoying an icy platter of oysters on the half shell is one of summer's greatest gustatory pleasures. But if you adhere to "Oysters R in Season," the adage that cautions against eating oysters in any month that doesn't have an "r" in its name, you're out of luck until September.

To get the skinny on oysters, we turned to Plainview's Sandy Ingber, executive chef of the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan.

"Oysters spawn when the water is warm," he said, defining spawning as "spitting out their seeds to be fertilized." Spawning oysters are not dangerous to eat, only unappetizing. "They can be dry, or they can be watery and mushy," he said. "Either way, they're just not good to eat."

Back in the days before refrigeration, Ingber explained, restaurants and markets were limited to whatever oysters were harvested in their immediate vicinity, but now oysters come to this area from all over the East Coast, and the West Coast as well. Even though most oysters spawn during the summer, the spawning process only takes four to six weeks. "There are so many oyster varieties available now," Ingber said; "at any time, there are always plenty that are not spawning."

Most oyster companies cease production when their oysters are spawning. If you see oysters on a menu in August, enjoy them.

Peach-cutting tips

This is the time of year when my father can be counted on to ask me why some peaches cling tenaciously to their pits while others can be easily cut in half and freed. This is what I tell him every year: All stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums, etc.) come in both clingstone and freestone iterations. While freestones taste better, are easier to work with and keep longer, farmers grow clingstones as well because they start to ripen earlier in the season, while freestones don't come in until later. Right now, clingstones are giving way to freestones.

Invaluable tip on cutting freestone peaches from reader Jerry Cohen of Glen Cove. The stem end of the peach has a little groove in it, dividing the fruit into two cheeks. Instead of cutting with the groove, cut across it -- that is, perpendicular to it -- and continue all the way around the peach. The two halves will neatly fall away.

How should tomatoes be stored?

Do not refrigerate tomatoes; the cold air will kill their taste. And, unless they are cherry and/or grape tomatoes, don't stack them on top of or next to one another. Your goal is to maximize air flow around them and to minimize pressure against them. I store them on the counter or in a shallow basket, stem-end down, so the tomato's weight is evenly distributed around the crown.

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