At one time oysters were the diet of the poor
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 Scotland (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. The European oyster flourished in the sea and estuaries around the coastal waters of Britain until the last century. The Firth of Forth was 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. 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.
If you just want the taste without the frippery, way off the beaten track on the road between Lochcarron and Applecross is the Kishorn Seafood Bar. This is simply a roadside diner with the best seafood. Native oysters, no frills. In London Jones’ Dairy, just off Columbia Road in Bethnal Green, serves them up with brown bread and lemon. Perfect cure for Sunday afternoon hangover.
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. 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.Articles Company Shed, Jones' Dairy, Kishorn Seafood Bar, oysters