I shall retreat in as much secrecy as possible to the most remote corner of the house, where I shall order a barrel of oysters, and be famously snug."
As Tom Musgrave was seen no more, we may suppose his plan to have succeeded, and imagine him mortifying with his barrel of oysters in dreary solitude, or gladly assisting the landlady in her bar to make fresh negus for the happy dancers above.
The Watsons, by Jane Austen
In the early nineteenth century, oysters were very cheap and were mainly eaten by the working classes. According to Peggy Hickman, editor of The Jane Austen Household Book
, "Barrels of oysters were sent by carrier to towns within a reasonable distance of seaports or London. But in rural districts housewives had to manage with mock oyster sauce. In Jane's day, ousters were sold as cheaply as 2s/0d. a hundred. Fifty years later Dickens observed that 'poverty and oysters seemed to go together', so apparently did pickled salmon, a fact which Mr. Pickwick found astonishing--though salmon were still abundant in the Thames."
However, increasing demands from the rapidly-growing cities led to many of the beds running short. To increase production, foreign varieties were introduced and this soon brought disease which, combined with pollution, and increasing sedimentation resulted in oysters becoming rare. This has been exacerbated worldwide by ever-increasing demands on wild oyster stocks. This scarcity increased prices leading to their current status as a delicacy.
Oysters can be eaten half shelled, raw, smoked, boiled, baked, fried, roasted, stewed, canned, pickled, steamed, broiled (grilled) or used in a variety of drinks. Preparation can be as simple as opening the shell and adding butter and/or salt, or can be very elaborate. For those who long for the flavor of Oyster sauce and have no oysters, a recipe for Mock Oyster Sauce is also included. Oyster Sauce can be used on oysters, as well as over chicken, beef or other meat cuts, or as a gravy in meat pies.
Oyster Sauce is made Thus
Take a half a pint of oysters, and simmer them till they are plump, strain the liquor from them through a sieve, wash the oysters very clean, and beard them; put them in a stew-pan, and pour the liquor over them, but mind you do not pour the sediment with the liquor; then add a blade of mace, a quarter of a lemon, a spoonful of anchovy liquor, and a little bit of horse-radish, a little butter rolled in flour, half a pound of butter nicely melted, boil it up gently for ten minutes; then take out the horse-radish, the mace, and lemon, squeeze the juice of the lemon into the sauce, toss it up a little, then put it into your boats or basins.
The Art of Cookery, by Hannah Glasse, 1805
Mock Oyster Sauce
Take half a pint of cream, one blade of mace (pounded and boiled with the cream), thicken it with butter rolled in flour and essence of anchovies to your taste, about one spoonful.
Martha Lloyd's Household Book
A modern variation of Mock Oyster sauce would be to boil your oysters, then make a basic Roux
, add a pint of cream, a teaspoon of Anchovey paste and a half teaspoon of Mace or Nutmeg. Oyster Sauce can be made using this same recipe. Follow the instructions for boiling the oysters and draining them, then add your Roux, horseradish, mace, lemon and anchovey paste.
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