Wednesday 4 September 1661

In the morning to the Privy Seal to do some things of the last month, my Lord Privy Seal having been some time out of town. Then my wife came to me to Whitehall, and we went and walked a good while in St. James’s Park to see the brave alterations, and so to Wilkinson’s, the Cook’s, to dinner, where we sent for Mrs. Sarah and there dined and had oysters, the first I have eat this year, and were pretty good. After dinner by agreement to visit Mrs. Symonds, but she is abroad, which I wonder at, and so missing her my wife again to my mother’s (calling at Mrs. Pierce’s, who we found brought to bed of a girl last night) and there staid and drank, and she resolves to be going to-morrow without fail. Many friends come in to take their leave of her, but a great deal of stir I had again tonight about getting her to go to see my Lady Sandwich before she goes, which she says she will do tomorrow. So I home.

26 Annotations

First Reading

Lawrence  •  Link

"oysters" the first I have eat this year, not being a water based meat lover, can anyone tell me if they are seasonal, and that's the reason Sam's not eat them up till now/September

Pedro.  •  Link

"but a great deal of stir I had again tonight about getting her to go to see my Lady Sandwich before she goes"

Why does Sam want his mother, being such a simple woman, to take her leave of Lady.M? She could see her often enough when she is in Hinchingbrooke, just a stone's throw from Brampton.

maureen  •  Link

Oysters, they say, should only be eaten when there is an "r" in the month. In English the months without "r" are the summer ones. Have never been able to work out whether the reason is related to the reproductive cycle of the creature or the chance of food spoiling in hot weather.

daniel  •  Link


I was taught that oysters should only be eaten in months with an "e" in them. Perhaps that was not the case then.

vicente  •  Link

I don't blame mum Pepys, not wanting to go and be put through the wringer, and possibly be humiliated. How I hated duty calls to local big wigs. Yes M'lady no M'lady, even thou some may be kin, Oh! that Aquiline Probiscos, on bended knee. [from the wrong side of DNA] "...but a great deal of stir I had again tonight about getting her to go to see my Lady Sandwich before she goes..."

Pauline  •  Link

to local big wigs
Vincent, Lady Sandwich has come accross as a very natural and charming person of no pretense. She lies abed with a new-born child. No reason in the world for Margaret to fear visiting her, every reason to do it. Perhaps in normal times some discomfort because of class difference, but she (in normal times) surely honors the Montagus as family to her husband and children and for the ways in which they have helped her son. For Margaret, these are not normal times--as you know I hold.

Pauline  •  Link

"Never serve oysters in a month that has no paycheck in it."
This from Vincent's link in background for oysters (the article also states the month-with-r rule--only because the oysters are busy spawing and haven't any oomph left for pleasing the palate texture-wise).

Flying in the face of both admonitions, I had the best oysters that ever I had in my life a month ago--Kumamotos from the Olympia area here in the Upper-Left-Hand Corner of things US (to steal from an annotator's descriptive moniker). I bought them at the Farmer's Market again today and, while delicious, last month's remain the best ever.

A dozen for $7. Small and briny.

vicente  •  Link

Yes, Lady S is a dear and very sweet, but for us lessers, it still is a very difficult to come thru the back entrance and be treated wonderfully well, but feeling very much out of place being even treated to treats and small talk. IF Lady S be a Rotter, then its not a problem, but trying to live up to your sons higher status is very stressful. Faux naif's, not allowed.

vicente  •  Link

JE: diary sept 4 "To Lond: Experiments about compressing Aer: Sir Jo: Finch presented the society with a piece of weaving of Asbestos, which he had from the D: of Tuscany , which indured the fiercest fire:"
And now bad for 'ealth. not mention'd I do think, in the Fumifugium 1661.

upper_left_hand_corner  •  Link

Oysters and months with an R:
I think it might have had something to do with higher water temperature (in the non-R summer months) and the risk of red tide poisoning shellfish for human consumption. It's not a hard and fast rule, as Pauline has found, especially in our ULHC ;-) where the waters stay a bit cooler.

I seem to remember a NW US Indian story about the coastal tribes warning their inland cousins to avoid shellfish when the sea water was bioluminescent. Same kind of thing.

Frans  •  Link

Oysters and months with a R.
Usually the oysters will get cloudy during the spawning season and should not be eaten. Also this is the time when the "red tide" can occur, which can make you plenty sick and or cause death. However sometimes in May and August they could still be clear and OK. This from the bottom left hand corner of Canada across the pond from the Olympic Peninsula.

Pedro.  •  Link

"thru the back entrance"

My question is why Sam is so keen for his mother to go? If, as some people think she were demented, Sam would fear one of her "irrational' outbursts. I think Sam knows that his mother would be perfectly well behaved and rational with Lady.M. I think that this is evidence that Mrs.P is fine, and it is only that she will not be patronised by her son without voicing her opinion. As for not wanting to visit, I think as Vincente intimates, she could not be a...d to go.

Mary  •  Link

Mother Pepys's reluctance.

Perhaps she's not too keen on the whole idea of rustication, would prefer to stay in Town and is dragging her heels when faced with all the preliminaries to the move.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

In Brazil(southern hemisphere)oysters are eaten year round;never heard of red tide over there; how about Australia Susan?

helena murphy  •  Link

We only see Mrs Pepys through her son's eyes. She may not verbalise very well her feelings,thoughts and emotions ,but this does not imply that she is unintelligent or simple in any way. Having lived her life, she has nothing to gain from patronage ,unlike her son. I admire her independent spirit ,she clearly feels that she personally has nothing in common with Lady Sandwich who will not be put out either way as to whether she calls on her or not.

dirk  •  Link


It's old popular wisdom that oysters, mussels and the like are at their best in R-months. Due to the reproductive cycle of the animal they reach their maximum size after the hot summer months, so the larger ones are only available then. At least that's how it used to be, before modern controlled breeding came in fashion. At present the "season" starts end July beginning of August, and continues up to May. Recently this artificially prolonged season has been under heavy criticism as far as mussel cultures in the Netherlands are concerned - apparently the mussels produced aren't up to what they were before the new methods...

Australian Susan  •  Link

They seem to be eaten all the year here. Sometimes they are from NZ or Tasmania. I'm vegetarian, so don't pay that much attention to seasonal sea food - sorry not to have more usueful information.
Sam and his Mum
I think he wants her out of the way, so as the household will be more attractive to a prospective wife for Tom. If she really is being awkward (and we only see this through Sam's partial eyes), then she would not be an easy propostion for a potential Tom-wife to cohabit with!

vicente  •  Link

re: mother and daughter [or in law] it would be a rare day that two women [related or not] can share a kitchen at the same time, some body has to take the lead [and it aint me? or the sainted one]

Harvey  •  Link

RED TIDE? Some summer months the algal 'red tide' closes shellfish beds for eating in NZ too, and likely also Australia, South America too. You eat'em you get sick, very. Of course this is Dec-Jan-Feb-Mar in the southern hemisphere and these days there are always the ones in the fridge.

dirk  •  Link

red tide

Red tides are tropical phenomena caused by over-fertilisation of coastal waters. So this couldn't have applied to Sam's environment in 17th c England.

Jackie  •  Link

Even if they didn't have red tides in those days, shellfish might well have been risky in Summer. The Thames was an open sewer and some of the oyster beds were at the Estuary.

Oysters are clearly safer to eat when they are not spawning. They have more energy for filtering out their food and the food is likely to be a bit more wholesome (or at least more dilute!).

Second Reading

Louise Hudson  •  Link

Oysters do spawn in the summer months and don't taste as good then (I've heard). There was probably an Old Wives' Tale that they were poisonous in the summer. Modern farm-bred oysters are eaten year-round and even wild oysters in the Americas don't seem to lose their flavor in the summer. Still, old myths die hard. In Sam's time if you managed to eat a bad oyster, or any bad seafood, it might create a very unfortunate reaction and there wouldn't have been any kind of medicine to relieve the distress.There were many food-borne illnesses back then and many Old Wives' Tales about foods as a result. Better safe than sorry.

Nate Lockwood  •  Link

Oysters, mussels, etc. are filter feeders so if there is a bloom of dinoflagellates (algae) those shellfish could readily have accumulated toxins. Blooms tend to occur in warm weather, shallow calm seas and estuaries after rains and are due to the presence of nutrients such as nitrates and potassium in the water column which can come from fertilizer application but are also present in sewage. Manure was a primary fertilizer in the 16 and 17 centuries so was probably used in Pepys' time, too. When in a military survival course in June many years ago we were forbidden to collect shellfish as there was an algal bloom so our pot was a bit empty.

Weavethe hawk  •  Link

If I remember correctly, (and this isn't a spoiler), having read all of the diary, there will be some mention to come of Sam having eaten bad oysters. An horrendous experience for the man.

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