England

For Richer, For Poorer

Oysters have a storied history in Britain: Before the Roman invasion, the British regarded them as a poorer substitute for meat or fish. The Roman occupation of Britain (from 43 to 410 AD) changed all that: oysters were suddenly in fashion—so in fashion, in fact, that they were even sent back to Rome.

By the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the 5th century, however, they’d fallen out of favor again. And so it went, this back-and-forth, with the little mollusk finding its status as either the food of kings or forbidden fruit, determined by conquerors, fashion and even the church.

When Queen Victoria was on the throne, oysters had become the staple diet of the poor, sold essentially as fast food on London streets, baked in pies, pickled, and served up in pubs with a pint of stout.

By the mid-1800s, as Britain’s oyster beds depleted, oysters became scarce, and they were served up as a delicacy for the nobility and upper classes once more.

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