Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - ixl. Oystres en grauey

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - ixl. Oystres en grauey 

It is rumored that King Henry IV enjoyed oysters so much that he consumed 400 in a single sitting! Bear in mind that he was probably eating the much smaller, and more delicate European (commonly known as belon) oyster (ostrea edulis).  The Romans prized oysters.  They were (and still are) considered an aphrodisiac, but they also believed that consuming oysters would improve your prowess on the battlefield.  So it should come as no surprise that guards were posted to protect oysters beds and that the cost of an oyster could be valued at a denarius--the value of a days labor.

Oysters in Gravy was the first of several recipe's I prepared featuring oysters from Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 Thomas Austin .  This is most likely one of the earliest versions of a well known classic--oyster stew, and it received the best reviews. I also prepared .xl. Oystrys in grauy bastard (oysters cooked in ale, thickened with bread and seasoned with ginger, sugar, saffron, pepper and salt) and .lxxxxij. Oystrys in bruette (oysters stewed with oyster liquor, ale, bread, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, saffron and salt). 

.ixl.*. [i.e. i from xl. ] Oystres en grauey.—Take gode Mylke of Almaundys, an drawe it wyth Wyne an gode Fysshe broþe, an sette it on þe fyre, & let boyle; & caste þer-to Clowes, Maces, Sugre an powder Gyngere, an a fewe parboylid Oynonys y-mynsyd; þan take fayre Oystrys, & parboyle hem in fayre Water, & caste hem þer-to, an lete hem boyle to-gederys; & þanne serue hem forth.

ixl - Oystres en grauey. Take gode Mylke of Almaundys, an drawe it wyth Wyne an gode Fysshe brothe, an sette it on the fyre, and let boyle; and caste ther-to Clowes, Maces, Sugre an powder Gyngere, an a fewe parboylid Oynonys y-mynsyd; than take fayre Oystrys, and parboyle hem in fayre Water, and caste hem ther-to, an lete hem boyle to-gederys; and thanne serue hem forth.

39. Oysters in gravey - Take good milk of almonds, and draw it with wine and good fish broth, and set it on the fire, and let boil; and cast there-to cloves, mace, sugar and powder ginger, and a few parboiled onions minced; then take fair oysters, and parboil them in fair water, and caste them there-to, and let them boil together; and then serve them forth.

Interpreted Recipe: 

1 c. almond milk (made by adding 1/4 c. almond flour to 1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cup oyster/clam broth)
1 clove
1/8 tsp. mace
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 c. parboiled onions
1 can oysters
salt and pepper to taste

Purists may cringe that I used canned oysters, unfortunately getting good seafood where I live is tricky.  It has usually been frozen and then thawed and put out on display, or, it has arrived fresh off the boat still living but costs an arm and a leg. Part of the goal in creating these posts is to make sure that they are cost friendly if you are cooking in very large quantities.  Buying fresh *might* be preferred, but purchasing canned ones (for me) is cost effective and eliminated the need to "þan take fayre Oystrys, & parboyle hem in fayre Water, & caste hem þer-to".

Should you be lucky enough to be able to use fresh oysters you will first want to clean them. Oysters are a filter for the ocean (they can filter 30-50 gallons of water a day), and their shells collect a lot of debris.   You will want to make sure they are fresh, and that they are still living.  To test for life, try to open up the shell, if the shell is cracked, damaged or open, or if it does not snap back when trying to open it, discard it.  It could make you sick.

To clean,  you will need to place oysters in a colander and rinse them under cold running water.  Scrub the shells with a brush (toothbrushes work), making sure that you clean out all the dirt and the debris that has collected not only in the shell but in the creases. Once clean it is necessary to shuck the oyster to remove it from it's shell.  There is a ton of information available on how to do this on the internet.  Be sure not to spill the oyster liquor (the liquid inside of the oyster). Also, make sure to use them within two hours of opening to avoid them spoiling. 

Parboil your onions if you have not done so, otherwise, add all ingredients accept for the oysters to the almond milk and bring to a boil.  If you are using fresh oysters, you will want to parboil them while the broth is cooking. Once the almond milk has come to the boil, add your remaining oysters and cook until oysters have been thoroughly heated through, and then serve.

God bless the taste testers! Of the four recipes that were interpreted this was by far the favorite and the one that  they stated they would eat again if served at a feast. It was likened to a "high end oyster stew".  Oysters are -not- for everyone I would use caution if serving this at an event. Also, due to the likelihood of quick spoilage, you may want to consider serving them at a smaller event or luncheon. I would even caution against bringing them to a camping event, unless you are absolutely certain that they will be eaten immediately and that any leftovers will not be stored. 

Similar Recipes

Forme of Cury (England, 1390)

OYSTERS IN GRAVEY. XX.VI. I. Schyl Oysters and seeþ hem in wyne and in hare own broth. cole the broth thurgh a cloth. take almandes blaunched, grynde hem and drawe hem up with the self broth. & alye it wiþ flour of Rys. and do the oysters þerinne, cast in powdour of gyngur, sugur, macys. seeþ it not to stondyng and serue forth.

Enseignements qui enseingnent a apareillier toutes manieres de viande (France, ca. 1300 - D. Myers, trans.)

Oysters in gravy, first cooked in water and onions, with pepper and saffron and with an aillie of almonds. Oysters again with salt and bread well leavened.