If like me you have ever spent quality time daydreaming about what a posh Roman liked to see gracing his dinner table after a tough day of bossing his slaves around in occupied Britain, you will have been transfixed by the recent news stories out Wiltshire, UK. For very recently there, some random trench digging on a farm uncovered an entire 2nd century AD Roman villa. And the two-thousand-year-old mess in its kitchen included not just the bones of hunted game and farmed suckling pig, but also hundreds of shells of cultivated oysters.
Keen as I am on game and suckling pig, it was the oysters which impressed me most – for Wiltshire is very much landlocked. According to the BBC story, the Romans shipped oysters inland from the coast, live, in barrels full of chilled salt water.
But what sort of English oysters the Romans favoured the story did not say.
Those Jerseys and other rock oysters so trendy in the UK today are all derived from Pacific stock, which was only transplanted to Europe in the 1980s. So they were definitely out. But even my oldest Michelin guide gives no hint as to what was popular back in 220 AD.
So I emailed the BBC story and its accompanying photograph of one of those old Roman patrician-slurped shells to the foremost oyster expert in my Rolodex – Ceili Cottage owner and onetime Guinness World Record holding shucking champion Patrick McMurray – for some feedback.
I was impressed, but the best and most timely of his information was yet to come. For it turned out that McMurray had the answer to the mystery on everyone’s mind in the much-anticipated premiere of this Sunday’s first episode of Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Not whether John Snow is dead, but rather, what sort of oysters Arya Stark is peddling from that fish cart she’s been pushing around down at the docks in Ragman Harbour, Braavos.
“They are the proper oysters for location and time,” McMurray wrote. They are Ostrea Edulis again. Which is to say that next time I slurp a Galway flat or a belon, I’ll close my eyes and Jand with a nod to the oyster’s aphrodisiac qualities, conclude with a nightcap or two at Littlefinger’s, in King’s Landing…
Photo courtesy HBO/Game of Thrones