Monday, June 13, 2016

350 Years Ago Today: Samuel Pepys Forgot His Lobsters

1666 was a momentous year for Pepys and his environs so the inveterate scribbler wrote about... lobsters.
From the now departed The Appendix:
...Thence with mighty content homeward, and in my way at the Stockes did buy a couple of lobsters, and so home to dinner, where I find my wife and father had dined, and were going out to Hales’s to sit there, so Balty and I alone to dinner, and in the middle of my grace, praying for a blessing upon (these his good creatures), my mind fell upon my lobsters: upon which I cried, Odd zooks! and Balty looked upon me like a man at a losse what I meant, thinking at first that I meant only that I had said the grace after meat instead of that before meat. But then I cried, what is become of my lobsters? Whereupon he run out of doors to overtake the coach, but could not, so came back again, and mighty merry at dinner to thinke of my surprize.
 - Samuel Pepys, Wednesday, 13 June, 1666.
On an inauspicious Wednesday in 1660[sic], Samuel Pepys left his lobsters in the back of a London taxi. According to his diary, he often purchased lobsters from fish markets in the city and brought them home for dinner. He also ate lobster at the homes of friends, served them at an elaborate dinner party, consumed them in pubs with prawns and ale, and indulged in lobster “with his mistress.” Eating lobster was as much a part of this London bureaucrat’s daily life as singing music with friends, buying a book, or seeing a play.

Of course, Pepys fancied himself an epicurean with great taste in food and drink. He was prone to sing the joys of excess in his gustatory feats. The online Pepys “encyclopedia” gathers his many references to food and drink in an impressive searchable list. But lobsters also lurk in the corners of many other early modern documents: their name is defined in multilingual dictionaries, mentioned in descriptions of Virginia and the East Indies, numbered among delicacies in chronicle accounts of banquets, and cataloged among beasts of sea and land. The lobster’s notable red hue when boiled is used to describe flushed faces. “Lobster” is the favored insult of a surly sea captain in an anonymous play.

For an gourmand like Pepys, lobster was both notable and quotidian. Pepys was able to purchase fresh lobster in London markets because earlier in the century English fishing fleets had adopted the Dutch practice of using “smacks,” or well vessels, to keep fish alive while en route from the sea to the market. It was a meal worth mentioning, like a tasty dish of rabbit or oysters, but a loss to leave such delicious shellfish in a hired coach. The crustacean’s purported effect as an aphrodisiac was its most exotic property and perhaps inspired Pepys to couple lobster and lust on at least one occasion....MORE 
The Diary of Samuel Pepys blog has the daily entries; we're now past the 1665 epidemic stage of the plague and coming up on the events of September, 1666.
Here's the complete June 13th entry.