12 September 2010

12 September - Hudson River; Oysters

In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, and his crew of the ship Half Moon (Halve Maen), began exploring the river which now carries his name.  He was searching for a northeast passage either around or through this land mass (we call it North America) that lay between Europe and the spice trade of the East Indies.  The Half Moon sailed up to approximately the area of Albany, before Hudson was forced to accept the fact that the river was too shallow and that there was no passage here. 

Five years later, however, the Dutch established a trading post at Fort Nassau (modern Albany) and engaged in the profitable fur trade.  Within sixteen years, New Amsterdam on the island of Manhattan became the capital of Dutch colony of New Netherland.  Both the city and the colony eventually became New York.

The New Netherland Museum maintains and operates a replica of the Half Moon; right now they are engaged in their annual "Fall Voyage of Discovery", a re-creation by crew and students of Hudson's exploration of the river.

On Ian Chadwick's Henry Hudson website, you can read an in-depth account of Hudson, his voyages, and his world.  There is a time-line of Hudson's third voyage, with entries based on crew-member Robert Juet's account of the exploration of the river.  On September 4, Hudson got his first taste of maize, which he called "Turkish Wheat"; on the 13th, the crew traded with the Indians for oysters, which could be 'sowced' or pickled for the long voyage home.

Oysters were plentiful in England and were consumed by all classes, but by most accounts, the colonists were amazed by the size of the bivalves in North America.  Cookbooks had instructions for pickling oysters to keep for future use, and recipes for Oyster Stuffing, Oyster Sauce, and Oyster Pie, like the one here, taken from "The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet" by Hannah Wolley:

"To make an OYSTER-PIE"

"Make your Paste as before, and lay it in your Pan, then lay in Butter, and then put in as many great Oysters as will almost fill your Pan, with their Liquor strained, some whole Pepper, Mace and Nutmeg; then lay in Marrow and the Yolks of hard Eggs, so cover them with Butter, close them, and bake your Pie, then put in White Wine, Anchovies, Butter and Yolks of Eggs; cover it again and serve it the Table."

Myself, I like oysters on the half-shell, with (pace James Beard) a dash of vinegar or hot sauce (and brown bread and butter, of course).
An invitation to dinner