Rock Oysters

For many of us oysters are either a symbol of arriviste affluence or naughty extravagance. What people order in restaurants just because they can. Or they were a furtive treat that might improve your chances on a date. But lately the price of them has come down and they are ever more popular. Oysters are native to Britain (in this case you are what you eat). These little crustaceans have been around since the dinosaurs and have certainly been eaten since Roman times. Oysters flourished in the sea and estuaries around our coastal waters until the last century and we were once one of Europe’s most important centres of oyster fishing.

For many of us oysters are either a symbol of arriviste affluence or naughty extravagance. What people order in restaurants just because they can. Or they were a furtive treat that might improve your chances on a date. But lately the price of them has come down and they are ever more popular. Oysters are native to Britain (in this case you are what you eat). These little crustaceans have been around since the dinosaurs and have certainly been eaten since Roman times. Oysters flourished in the sea and estuaries around our coastal waters until the last century and we were once one of Europe’s most important centres of oyster fishing.

It’s hard to imagine that at one time, oysters were poor man’s food. They were part of the staple diet of the poor in Britain. Barrel-loads of them were harvested around the coast. In the early 19th century, more than a billion were eaten in Britain every year (compared to 40 million these days). Eventually over-fishing and contaminated waters killed off all but a few oyster beds around the east of England, Cornwall and the west coast of Scotland and in some sea lochs. Then they began to be imported and became a luxury item.

Along with rhino horn, tiger penis and asparagus, oysters are said to have considerable aphrodisiac properties. So being that it’s St Valentine’s next week why not give them a go. After all, if nothing else, I suppose all that slurping would be enough to get you in the mood. But according to those in the know, they are also very good for you. Apparently eating half a dozen oysters every day gives you loads of vitamins, nutrients and minerals and they have almost no cholesterol. But we’re a wee bit squeamish in our eating habits; everything has to be vacuum packed and eaten within minutes. Oysters are so visceral, almost preternatural. And they’re alive. You can almost hear them wincing at the dashes of tabasco.

There are all sorts of stories and snobbery about what you can and can’t drink with Oysters or whether you should cook them. I have had delicious grilled oysters (called Rockerfeller). And from what I gather the poor buggers in Hogarth’s time who lived off them enjoyed a much adulterated gin to wash them down. It can only get better than that.


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