Pilgrim Seasonings

Plymouth Colony Foodways: Notes and Recipes from a 17th Century Kitchen

Why then the world’s mine oyster/Which I with sword will open.

June 14th, 2013 by KM Wall


2 oysters on the half shell - from the Cotuit Oyster Company website

2 oysters on the half shell – from the Cotuit Oyster Company website

The world may very well be Pistols oyster (in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, scene 2 written by a certain William Shakespeare), but he would have a rather difficult time of in some parts on New England. Although oysters are now farmed all along the coast, and have been for over 100 years, and have been happily gathered for even longer, oysters are not naturally in ALL parts of New England. One notable place without oysters – PLYMOUTH. Yes, there were oysters on Cape Cod (that’s where Cotuit is) and there were oysters in Massachusetts Bay (Boston is the modern landmark) but in all those miles in between….lobsters, clams and muscles were the shellfish of abundance in the seventeenth century. No oysters.

“The river [near Manomet] yieldeth, thus high, oysters, muscles, clams, and other shellfish;…”

- Good Newes, Applewood ed. p. 25.

Which brings us back to mussels.

“Muskels in bruet.

Take muskels, pick them, seeth them with the own broth, make a layer of crust and vinegar, do in onions minced & cast the muskels thereto.& seeth it, and do therto bread with a little salt & saffron the samewise make of oysters.”

-Maxime McKendry. 700 years of English Cooking. (Forme of Cury, 1378). 1983. p.32.

Take mussels, pick them, seethe them with their own broth, make a layer of crust (crust from bread) do in onions minced and cast mussels thereto and seethe it, and do there to [the] bread with some salt and saffron(you’re adding salt and saffron to the bread. Am I the only one thinking Mediterranean Cuisine here?) the sameways with oysters. (You can do the same thing with oysters instead of mussels)

Samewise is a great word we should still be using.

Variations of this particular recipe show in several manuscript versions.

This is an excerpt from Fourme of Curye [Rylands MS 7]
(England, 1390)
The original source can be found at MedievalCookery.com

.Cxx. Muskels in bruet. Tale muskels, pyke hem, seeth hem with the owne broth, make a lyour of crustes of brede & vyneger, do in oynouns y mynced & cast the muskels ther to & seeth hit & do ther to poudour with a littul salt & safroun, the same wyse make of oysters.

Similar, but not exactly the same. It’s interesting to me that when people copied recipes by hand, that there were all sorts of variations – spelling, punctuation, emphasis – in short, personality – that is utter lacking in the modern cut and paste and add a 1/2 cup of chopped parsley nonsense that tries passing  as recipe writing.  These medieval guys are trying to copy each other and they can’t help but make little changes. Like people who cook in real places for real people with actual preferences and dislike. Enough soapboax – more Muskels!

But if you don’t have mussels…poor thing…then same wyse make of oysters.

Henri Stresor - The Oyster Eater

Henri Stresor – The Oyster Eater – English mid 17th century


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One Response to “Why then the world’s mine oyster/Which I with sword will open.”

  1. Penny says:

    Bring on the muskels! This is a laugh-out-loud entry. Thanks and happy eating.

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