Cut It Clean

Sisters Clementine Boyd and Deborah Pratt in Urbanna, Virginia, 2013, photo by Sara Wood.

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Cut It Clean

by Sara Wood
Southern Cultures, Vol. 24, No. 1: Food IV, The Coast

“‘Oysters played a great role in my life, and I would tell any child on this earth that twenty-four oysters took me around the world.’”

Deborah Pratt and her younger sister Clementine Boyd are stabbers. For almost forty years, stabbing has supported them and their families, brought them fame, and taken them around the world. Stabbing is a method of shucking oysters that winds through generations of African American families in the Chesapeake Bay region. It’s done like this: you pin a muddy oyster to the table. It looks like some kind of sea rock, impossible and impenetrable. When you find the lip of the oyster, you gently wiggle in your knife. Then, you stab down at the heart, which really means slicing away the bottom muscle. You flip it over, and you cut the second muscle, freeing the oyster from the shell. Using a rhythm consisting of three beats, stabbing sounds like this: Stab. Cut. Flip. Or—Stab. The. Heart. Or—Boyd’s preferred count—I. Love. You. Pratt and Boyd are known as two of the fastest stabbers in the country, some might even say—and this camp includes Pratt herself—the world.