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Victorian Dinner Part I –what was with the oysters?

This weekend my husband and I will send our kids off to Grandma’s house for our annual Victorian weekend. In truth, the weekend is really only Victorian in the dinner aspect of it. I spend a week or two working diligently to create an authentic Victorian meal—minus the oysters.

What is with the Victorian obsession with oysters?—slimy rubber creatures that have no place in my pretty notion of the Victorian period. When I first started doing this years ago, partly because I wanted to know what a real Victorian dinner was like (more on that in a later post) the initial menu I read had oysters in it. At first I thought it was just a matter of the particular book/website I was reading, but I came to discover that all of them had oysters. The Victorians seemed positively obsessed with oysters, so much so that I found websites about plates specifically designed to accommodate oysters:
http://www.myantiquemall.com/AQstories/oysterplates/OysterPlates.html
http://www.outofbrusselsantiques.com/articles/majolica-oyster-plates.htm

So I got to thinking (because I am a romance writer) that maybe the oysters were used as an undisclosed aphrodisiac in a period that was becoming, at least in the written word, increasingly disdainful of sexual intimacy. Maybe oysters made their way into Victorian dinner because men hoped they would excite what the little sexual feeling that women had. What a wonderfully intriguing thought!

And false.

I’ve recently learned that oysters were in fact a “filler”—cheap, easy and apparently considered elegant. http://www.victoriaspast.com/DiningRoom/morerecipies.htm
In modern times we consider bread a filler at dinner. Why not in Victorian times? I don’t know for sure, but I would theorize that it was because hot, homemade bread was a given. For centuries bread was made at home once a week or more. What would be exciting about that? Where as with increasingly better transportation (decreasing spoilage) and new canning techniques (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canning) previously unavailable food items were now the latest fad. (like celery—which is for another blog, too).

Regardless, there will be no oysters at my Victorian dinner, even if my husband does like them. And I have one or two characters in my books that feel about oysters the same way I do. After all, we are told to write what we know.

For all that, I can’t completely let go of the aphrodisiac theory. So much more fun. . .

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