For quite a long time now, I've been collecting old kitchen implements. Some are brilliant, and make specific tasks much easier. Sometimes, it's true, these tasks are very specific indeed, such as asparagus trimming. They may not even be tasks that you want to do at all, such as scallop opening. But then again there are things like can openers, vegetable peelers and egg slicers that many of us find quite useful, quite often.

Exhibit A: an alleged oyster opener

Often, I buy these things at vide-greniers, annual village-wide swap meets where people sell things they no longer need. Or in some cases, understand. I'm beginning to suspect that when the French don't know what something is, they slightly shiftily declare that it's for opening oysters. Whether they are saying this because they think I am a stupid Englishman who will not know enough to argue, I am not sure; but quite often, they are unable to explain exactly how the tool in question might be used to open oysters. After all, opening oysters is simple. Not easy, but simple. You wrap your hand in something to protect it if the oyster-opening knife slips, then attack the hapless mollusc with a traditional stubby-bladed knife as seen below.

Exhibit B: an actual oyster opener

But if this is too simple, I have at least three separate patent oyster-opening knives, including a power assisted stubby bladed knife, as well as Exhibit A, above. When I bought it, I was hopelessly confused. I couldn't figure out what the pliers were supposed to grip; there's no guard for the knife blade; there are two little lugs on the folding tang that look as if they might be designed to engage with something; and it has a little bracket/ hanging hook/ lanyard clip. It clicks closed, almost invisible against the handle. Open or closed, it does not lock or even impede anything.I began to suspect that patent oyster openers work only with patent oysters

Then I found to my amazement that they are still available new, which is how I found out how to use mine. It's depressingly simple. You use the pliers-like bit to cut a nick in the side of the oyster, then shove the blade into the nick in exactly the same way you would if you were forcing an ordinary oyster knife (Exhibit B) between the two halves of the shell. The blade is too long and too thin, so you need a proper oyster knife anyway, but a bigger problem is that the nick destroys the structural integrity of the oyster shell, so it breaks while you are trying to remove it and you get extremely crunchy oyster shell crumbs in your oyster. When I learned all this, I felt quite let down: I was much happier with my previous diagnosis, which was that it was a self-locking bayonet for an oyster musket.

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