It’s a beautiful day in South Freeport. hardly a ripple on the water. Men in yellow rubber boots carry buckets full of fish from the pier, others ready ropes and start engines, puttering softly in the late morning quiet. Harraseeket, a lunch and lobster restaurant, is closed for the season. We meet Ken Sparta, oysterman and restaurateur, at the end of the harbour, already aboard his metal schooner.
Ken, along with his brother Leo, is the owner of Spartan Sea Farms, as well as Freeport Oyster Bar down the road. They harvest oysters, scallops, quahogs (a very New England sort of clam) and kelp. If you were to draw up a Maine fisherman then he’d look like Ken: a giant beard the colour of a stormy winter sea and a kind and creased face. During the depths of winter the hull of the schooner will break through sea ice. “It gets cold all right,” he says matter-of-factly.
“You can taste the difference between oysters that are wild and those that aren’t,” says Ken, who grows his own Spartan variety in nets a couple of miles out from harbour, a seal pops its head up for air and eyes us quizzically. “There’s a purity to them. You don’t need to add anything. Just straight down.” We stop at one of Ken’s nets and he hauls out stacks of stoney shells.
Ken shucks oysters with the speed and agility of a man who has… shucked a lot of oyster. The shells tossed back into the ocean. The kelp and shellfish has helped to clean the waters around here over the last decade. The slurping commences. Saltier than your restaurant-variety. More atavistic. Straight from the clean waters of Casco bay, there’s no better setting than here.
If only we’d brought that bottle of Sancerre.