ON THIS DAY: 3 March 1845

An advertisement appeared in The Times asking for an oyster dealer ‘who does not wash his hands in the same water as the oysters, and who is not fronted when civilly asked to wash them before he uses them to open the oysters’.

Nowadays we associate oysters with champagne and luxury. But in the nineteenth century they were a staple food, often sold in pubs or from stalls in the street. They were the food of the poor, as Charles Dickens indicates in The Pickwick Papers (1827-28), in which Sam Weller tells Mr. Pickwick that ‘poverty and oysters always seem to go together’, noting that ‘the poorer a place is, the greater the demand for oysters’. Oysters were often pickled with vinegar and spices, and they were frequently incorporated into dishes like beef pies in order to stretch meals. Those living near oyster beds often gathered them to supplement their meagre diets.

Image: Oyster Eaters by Jacob Lucasz Ochtervelt, circa 1665-1669, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid