Oysters - the Tudor version of cinema popcorn

Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:28am EST
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Elizabethan theater-goers chomped on an exotic array of foods while enjoying the latest plays of the day, new evidence found at the sites of Shakespearean playhouses in London suggests.

Archaeologists say choice Tudor snacks included oysters by the cartload, crab and other shellfish like mussels, whelks and periwinkles.

Dried raisins and figs, hazelnuts, plums, cherries and peaches were also consumed in great quantities, according to experts who excavated The Rose and The Globe theatres on the south bank of the River Thames.

Baked blackberry and elderberry pies and sturgeon, common in British waters at the time, were also popular with the masses who packed the playhouses.

New published research also suggests that the theater diet varied along social and class lines.

Commoners, referred to then as "groundlings or stinkards" who paid just a penny to stand in the yard or pit regularly chomped on oysters.

"Oysters were in fact the staple diet of the poor, right up to the Victorian period, and certainly we find oyster shells by the thousand on nearly every archaeological site we do," said senior Museum of London archaeologist Julian Bowsher who excavated the two theater sites.

The gentrified classes, who paid more to sit on cushions in the galleries, were more likely to have munched on crab and sturgeon, he said. Sturgeon may well have been slightly more expensive than other fish at the time.   Continued...

<p>Oysters are presented by oyster farms near Bordeaux, August 21, 2009. REUTERS/Olivier Pon</p>