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Food Notes

  • Our cooking is generally very onion-intensive. Last night was a pinnacle of onion consumption: slow-roasted lamb and onion stew, with avocado and raw onion salad. All we were missing were the pickled onions, and those we opted out of. They are present in the kitchen.

  • C. and I have been sampling our way through the breakfast bar selection in our local supermarket. Thus far, Dorset Cereals easily wins for tastiest breakfast bars.

  • pennski - I have not forgotten! I shall bake cake on Thursday.

  • We've been reading about Victorian kitchens and food preparation, which led to learning a snippet about the mid-nineteenth century "oyster crash". Before then, oysters were eaten as a cheap food, widely available to the poor. Between overfishing and pollution, supplies crashed sometime around 1850. Is this true only of England? How far back were they such a cheap food - since consumption of them began?



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 18th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Poor man's truffle
My cooking is onion-heavy too--I love every type. So much flavour for so little money. In our weekly veggie box we had a whole run of lovely shallots over the winter; I was in heaven.

I haven't tried the Dorset cereal bars but we do enjoy the cereals themselves. I've never yet found a breakfast bar I liked. Are they in the CW Waitrose?
Mar. 18th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor man's truffle
Yes, three varieties available in the CW Waitrose. I've been happy with all three. (And we've been making pretty serious inroads in trying all the different breakfast bar varieties!)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 18th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
Romans ate oysters, but I don't know if it was delicacy or ubiquity.

I'm not a big cereal eater - not a big milk consumer. We don't usually have it in the house unless a recipe calls for it, or there are guests who might want tea with it. I'll sometimes have cereal with yogurt, but even that I can't usually be bothered with. I default to bagels and cream cheese, since both keep a long time (the bagels in the freezer) and love fresh muffins or banana bread or the like as a breakfast food. Cereal bars are packaging intensive, but just the right size for a bit of breakfast which won't have gone stale if it's been more than three days since I last went shopping.
Mar. 18th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
Romans certainly ate oysters, and at least some of the time it was a delicacy; they are mentioned in Horace and Juvenal, each time with a geographic locator, and they seem to have been imported from as far away as Britain. The most famous oysters were from the artificial Lucrine Lake, which produced (apparently) the most delicately flavoured oysters, and oyster seeds (well, that's how the reference I looked at referred to the baby (?) oysters) were imported from other places and grown in the Lucrine lake to improve their flavour.

I don't have the right resources on hand to check more fully into the matter, but I suspect that oysters may have been eaten by many classes, and that the insistence on certain provenances for oysters helped make some of them into luxury items.

Though the mediterranean in general isn't, I gather, a good oyster region, and so maybe they didn't form a large part of the everyday diet, and were only an imported luxury. I wish I had the right reference books to hand!

Mar. 18th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Here's what the English Heritage publication Food and Cooking in Roman Britain: History and Recipes by Jane Renfrew (1985) has to say on the subject:
There can be no doubt that shellfish were highly prized as food in Roman Britain. Oysters were especially important and may well have been transported live in tanks to inland sites. Oysters from the coast near Colchester and near Richborough were famous, and even valued in Rome. The consumption of oysters was so great that the proximity of Roman sites is almost always shown by the presence of large quantities of oyster shells. In one deposit in Silchester more than a million oyster shells were recovered.

That doesn't really answer the question of oyster consumption in Rome itself, but does show that, at least in Britain, oyster consumption among Romans was fairly well ubiquitous. (And before the Romans?)

Edited at 2008-03-18 04:30 pm (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
No, the crash hit the East Coast of the US too. I had an article from the NYTimes that mentioned it among my several thousand clippings (... I may have a problem) at one point.

Here are some of the articles that mentioned the NYC oyster issue. (Ah, and some of them were related to a book.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/opinion/nyregionopinions/25CIkurlansky.html?st=cse&sq=oyster+19th&scp=9 (ooh, a typhoid link)

The book in question:

Edited at 2008-03-18 03:47 pm (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
You are such a wonderful source of very specific information! You're good at organizing your resources.

Thank you - I've read two of these articles now, and am going back to read the rest. The book is tempting.
Mar. 18th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
More like very random information. The clippings aren't horribly useful (spread across many backup disks, and I'm often surprised by what I have--why so many articles on ice rink roof collapses?), so my knowledge tends to be based on what I remember and internet search boxes. XD

Luckily, the book reviews were from 2006, so when you mentioned the oyster crash, it could still trigger a neuron connection.

The surprising thing to me is how often the topic of oysters in the 19th century has come up in the NYTimes over the past ten years, even before the book was published.
Mar. 18th, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
To continue, I mean, I know very little about oyster consumption in Japan, past or present. (Somewhat embarrassing.) The Jomon Period is famous for shell mounds, which I suspect would have oysters in them. But. Only knowing a bit about the shell mounds, I couldn't say for sure. (And despite the fact that I should be more up to date on the provisioning of the capital in the 8th century onward, most of what I know is "pears from here, picked fish from there..." which I've picked up from about the least convenient sources for such things.)

So, after a bit of catalog searching, I found a book on oyster cultivation in Japanese (which I don't have time to read), and the news always talks about the opening of littleneck clam (asari) digging on the shore, every year....

I don't even know how to cook oysters! Unless you can just dump them into the rice pot with the rice and do them that way. In which case, not much different from how I make a lot of food.
Mar. 18th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
I'd imagine that oyster consumption only really got going on a large scale once the railways were available to get them to urban markets. They were certainly eaten locally anywhere they grow naturally back in hunter gatherer days. Huge shell middens dating back 10s of thousands of years have been found in quite a few places around the world. Having seen raccoons eat starfish from rockpools I'd imagine anything that can be gathered by the sea and is edible has been feeding hominids for a very long time indeed.
Mar. 18th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
Oysters can be relatively cheap in the US, depending on where you are. Or very expensive. When I lived in Seattle, oysters ranged from about $.25 each to $3.50 each. The more expensive ones were usually the imports.
Mar. 19th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
As I understand it, oysters were also useful and widespread because they are, as it were, already canned, and could be shipped quite long distances while remaining alive and therefore fresh.
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:37 am (UTC)
My mother taught me to start all stir fries and curries and the like with an onion and so I do to this day. I don't actually do raw onions, stews (well a curry is a kind of stew I 'spose) or roasting with onions.

On the subject of oysters my mother will often quote the old adage (apparently attributable to Jonathan Swift) that "It was a brave man who first ate an oyster."

I have never been one for the fruits of the sea myself. When I was in England with my grandparents in Southhampton 20 years ago we would go cockling on the beach and get their bivalves that way (I believe the trick is to look for the bubbles up through the wet sand). I would have thought that the poor might have engaged in such practices in bygone eras to supplement their food budget.
Mar. 19th, 2008 05:59 pm (UTC)
I hate to admit it, but crunchynut cereal bars are pretty good, as are rice crispy ones. For a more civilised option, Jordan's Breakfast bars are very good.
I'm also working my way through the breakfast bar selection in the local supermarket, generally buying whathever is on offer that week.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )