An interesting story I just saw in the paper

Feb 2, 2005
Link will be useless after about a week, so I cut and pasted the text

Getting a handle on history
Three friends are re-creating a part of Maryland's culinary legacy, using pieces of the fallen Wye Oak to make Chesapeake oyster knives
By Tom Pelton
Sun reporter
Originally published January 3, 2006
Tendrils of smoke curled around Dale German as he heated the base of a knife with a blowtorch and slid the red-hot blade into place atop an oak handle. The leathery hands of the 60-year-old Baltimore woodworker moved slowly and carefully because the material he was using was no ordinary wood.

He was crafting an oyster knife from the recycled body of what was Maryland's oldest resident, the fabled Wye Oak. The official state tree towered over the Eastern Shore for more than four centuries before being toppled by a thunderstorm in June 2002.

"This is an opportunity to take advantage of the great tree's falling and turn it into something good for the Chesapeake Bay," said German, working amid heaps of sawdust in a shop behind Baltimore's main branch post office on Fayette Street.

The knife he was making is one of 1,000 commemorative "Chesapeake Stabbers" he plans to sell to raise money for Chesapeake Bay restoration projects. Packaged in white oak boxes with ornate carvings of the Wye Oak, they are priced at $200 and up.

The knives are available through the Web site of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a state and federally funded nonprofit organization (oys

The Wye Oak was America's largest white oak, soaring nearly the height of a 10-story building in a state park named after it north of Easton, according to a history on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Web site.

When the tree toppled in a storm 3 1/2 years ago, its age was estimated at 450 years - more than two centuries older than the state.

It sprouted on land beside an ancient Indian path, the Choptank Trail, which ran along the east side of the Chesapeake Bay. Much later, in 1665, the land surrounding the "quiet giant" became part of a farm estate of Thomas Williams.

State treasure
In 1940, the American Forestry Association named the Wye Oak the largest white oak in the nation.

It grew so broad and creaky - with the branches of its crown stretching 119 feet - that state foresters fastened dozens of cables to it to hold it up.

After its collapse, the state decided to use some of the wood to fashion a desk for the governor's office. Other sections were donated to local churches for crosses, set aside for artisans who wanted to carve sculptures, and given to Talbot County for the carving of an official seal for the courthouse, among other uses.

At the time, German was spending most of his time making cabinets and furniture.

"My surprise, when it fell, was quickly followed by a woodworker's natural curiosity about what might become of the wood from this miraculous giant," said German, who lives in the Carney neighborhood of Baltimore County.

He began talking to his old buddy and former neighbor Paul Bartlett, 53, a head chef at the Phillips chain of seafood restaurants.

Bartlett had been bemoaning the lack of Chesapeake-style oyster knives since the Carvel Hall cutlery company of Crisfield folded in 2000. During the decades when oysters were a mainstay of Maryland's economy, these narrow-bladed instruments with teardrop-shaped wooden handles had been ubiquitous in family kitchens.

But as overharvesting, disease and pollution decimated Chesapeake oyster populations, the knives became harder to find.

The friends decided to take unwanted chunks of the Wye Oak offered for free by the state and use them as a selling point to bring back a symbolic artifact of the region's culinary history.

To design the knives properly, they called on another friend, George Hastings, 50, a state transportation engineer who has won two national oyster-shucking championships. He boasts a Hulk Hogan-style wrestling belt bejeweled with mammoth, gaudy, gold-colored oyster shells that he won at the Mohegan Sun Oyster Open in Connecticut last year.

Nobody can open an oyster like George," Bartlett said. "If you line up 20 oysters for him, when he's done, they are so damn fat and so happy they don't even know they've been shucked."

Working together

Working together
The partners call themselves the "Three Oyscateers."

During a recent morning in German's dusty workshop, the three joked and recited Lewis Carroll's poem about feasting on oysters, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," as they showed a visitor how they make the knives.

They toiled in a century-old brick warehouse, amid shelves cluttered with rasps and bottles of glue, a guitar that German had crafted out of spruce, and a mandolin.

German positioned a block of oak in an electric lathe and flicked a switch to set it spinning. Wood chips flew and a sweet smell filled the air as he guided a chisel over the rectangular shape, slowly softening it into what looked like a golden egg.

Into the handle, he stabbed a heated knife blade, which burned a hole for itself.

Hastings picked up a finished knife and demonstrated how to stab the skinny blade between the front edges of oyster shells, using what he called the Chesapeake technique.

In other parts of the country such as Louisiana and Texas, the champion shucker explained, they use thicker knives to pry open the oyster's hinge at the rear.

"This is all a part of the history and culture of the Chesapeake Bay, which the great Wye Oak oversaw and was part of," Hastings said