|Essex Oysters, direct from our purification plant on the River Crouch|
Paul Leslie - Farm Manager
The name Brandy Hole dates
back to 1680 when Smugglers used to bring their contraband up river to a
cottage that had secret cellars for storing Brandy etc. If the Local customs
were thought to be about the smugglers would dump the goods over the side into
a natural hole in the River Crouch just below Hullbridge, for collection when
the coast was clear.
The name Brandy Hole dates back to 1680 when Smugglers used to bring their contraband up river to a cottage that had secret cellars for storing Brandy etc. If the Local customs were thought to be about the smugglers would dump the goods over the side into a natural hole in the River Crouch just below Hullbridge, for collection when the coast was clear.
Oysters have been harvested from the River Crouch for over two thousand years. Romans loved oysters, particularly the ones from the Essex creeks.
It is said the benefactor who first ate an oyster was a slave, who as punishment was forced by an early Roman emperor to eat a dozen or so. The look of ecstasy on the slave's face so intrigued the emperor he partook of that same punishment.
In the 1800's over 200 boats and 500 workers were working the river, which helped keep the perfect conditions for breeding the Native Oysters (Ostrea edulis). Over 20,000 Bushels were taken to London each season, as well as exported to France & Holland.Frederick Wiseman, a well known farmer, had a noticeable success by providing the then Prime Minister with oysters. Disraeli wrote from 10 Downing Street on the 20th March 1874 , “Dear Sir , Your oysters were worthy of Roman Emperors, and I have little doubt, that it was these very green-finned natives, that impelled them to invade Britain and, I fear, conquer Essex. They were delicious and, I am ashamed to add, I devoured most of them myself. You’re bold Servant. B. Disraeli”.
Due to a number of reasons the industry declined at the turn of the last century. With the First World War taking so many lives, the number of oyster fishermen working the river was insufficient to keep the beds in good condition for breeding. World War II virtually closed the beds.
There are currently two types of oyster in the Crouch. The oysters at Brandy Hole are known commonly as Pacific or Rock Oysters (Crassotrea gigas) these are now the most common oyster in the world. Due to the decline in the Native oyster, Pacifics were introduced to the Essex waters in the 1930's by our Farm Manager's Grandfather; Harry Leslie DSC, RNVR, who owned the Essex Oyster Fisheries Company. He also experimented with Portugese (Ostrea angulata) which grew well but wouldn’t reproduce.
Oysters were farmed at Brandy Hole by the Burnham Oyster Company up until 1963, when the big freeze destroyed the beds. Over the last decade the Pacifics have come back as the conditions suit this hardy mollusc.One feature of these home bred oysters is that their beards (that is breathing gills) are in the winter months more or less tinged with a green pigment. This peculiar green is imparted to them by the micro algae species (“Blue Navicula”) which grows abundantly in the River. In Marennes-Oleron, France they grow the algae in laboratories and sell it to the French oyster cultivators, where it is added to the Clairs (Holding tanks) where they store the oysters. “Les Vertes” are considered a delicacy! We have decided to call our Oysters “Brandy Hole Emeralds”.
Our aim is establish the Brandy Hole Oyster brand as a premium local product for restaurants and fishmongers alike.
The Oyster grounds have been registered by Brandy Hole Moorings Ltd, and are one of the only privately owned beds in the country. Protected by the 1967 Shellfish Act.
We have been working the beds over the last few years to with a view to harvest the best Pacifics for our clients. These are grown wild in their natural habitat and are selected and picked by hand at low water.
We have constructed our own purification plant adjacent to the river, which will have a capacity of purifying up to 13,000 oysters per week. We will also be purifying Hard Shell Clams, Manila Clams caught locally and Mussels. Because Brandy Hole has low salinity levels the flavour is less salty than the Atlantic grown Oyster.
We have found some Natives growing wild amongst the Pacifics, and we have cleared an area where we are relaying this species. We have started bringing in native seed oysters from Cornwall, to try to restore the stocks, which are now protected around the east coast. Hopefully in the future we will be able to offer these beautiful little Oysters for sale.
The Brandy Hole Oyster Company Limited 2013
Registered in England and Wales Company Number 8211292