Catherine Fellows recommends meals to drool over while you’re drooling over someone else.
Maybe things didn’t go as planned on Valentine‘s Day. Epigrams stiff with innuendo, sophisticated floral tributes and romantic restaurants are all very well, but do they deliver the goods? ls it time to give up dreaming and take things into your own hands? Time to devise a banquet for two personally spiked with some sure-fire stimulants ofyour own. Whether you understand the term ‘aphrodisiac‘ to refer to specific potions or to anything which induces. amorousness. one thing is sure, like horoscopes, you do not have to believe in them to swallow them with gusto. Their appeal is evident from the amazing number of authors who have spent ink and energy helping to plan ‘your private love banquet’. I can only speculate about why some of the most entertaining have gone out of print, but it is a good enough reason to pass on their wisdom here. In The Romance of Food, Barbara Cartland, Queen of Hearts. casts a rose-tinted eye in the direction of the kitchen and conjures up horrendously rich confections with titles like Spanish Rhapsody, LobsterAmOiirette, Sole Confetti, Turkey Divan and Coq au Vin. They come garnished with a froth of hearts, ﬂowers and china figurines, and, of course, Madame Love‘s astounding authority. ‘The continued beliefsince Roman times,’ she writes, revealing a devious side beneath the frills and bows, ‘that oysters, fish —— especially salmon — raw eggs, raw vegetables, pomegranates and honey lead to increased sexual prowess is right.‘
Oysters inspiremore than conversation as Frans van Mieris knew when he
Oyster Meal in 1661 (from Scenes of Everyday Life by Christopher Brown. Faber)
‘For the Chinese,’ she continues with insight. ‘fish are the symbols of good fortune and conjugal harmony - probably because they are unable to speak.‘
And is Jagged Hare ‘a spur and a stimulant to the languid lover’, who identifies with this ‘fastest ofwild animals‘. or will he be offin a flash at this grim intimation of his own entrapment? ‘Only a strong man whom women admire.‘ decrees Cartland, ‘ean brave the dark and cold to wait for the dawn ﬂight‘ of wild ducks, so serve him Duckling Hymethus. ‘There is so much health and sex in this dish,‘ she froths, ‘I do not know where to begin‘.
Judith Hann‘s The Food oi Love (published by Partridge Press and still available) is the subtle alternative. Her attitude is that ifyou love your partner you don‘t want to make him fat or give him a heart attack. What is more, elegant and careful presentation has the ring of emotional sincerity. She doesn‘t believe in aphrodisiacs, but she would never serve oysters to an ‘intended’. That, she says, would be ‘just like wearing a see-through
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blouse’. Many of Hann‘s recipes are extremely appealing.
The Seducer’s Cookbook (James Chatto) is aimed at ‘the sort ofcook who is uncertain where in his flat the kitchen is‘, but knows it is not that far from the bedroom. Menus work on the understandable assumption that the only way to bridge the gap between Her Dream Man and this reality is full-scale deception.
If a Greek God is what she is after. drape the room in classical swathes, leave copies of Ovid around in readiness for an impromptu recital. and serve plenty ofolives. feta cheese, grilled fish, honey and yoghurt. Useful tips include: ‘Wear rubber gloves when dealing with garlic, onions and raw fish as their personalities linger through many baths, competing with your charisma,‘ and ‘try not to get drunk, eat at the same speed as your guest and hide toothbrush and paste in the kitchen for a surreptitious clean while you are getting the coffee‘.
Food for Lovers by Katie Stewart and Pamela Michael is amusingly illustrated with reproductions of the antics of our forefathers — was medieval loving really that wooden? According to these artists, a good meal was enough to make monks whisk off their robes, and Indian princes. . . well anyway, there is nothing coy about this book. ‘All the dishes are ones that will not spoil if kept waiting, and many of them can be eaten with one hand.’
Opinions about the potential of foods to work as physical aphrodisiacs are as wide-ranging as the various feasts envisaged. Nicholas Turner in Aphrodisiacs or ‘the civilized art of subtle seduction’, contends that ifyou accept that foods affect you in various ways, why shouldn‘t there be some which improve your sex life? ‘Animal genitals, rhino horn, powdered mummy, bat blood and drugs are not
aphrodisiacs,‘ but there are foods which improve your general feeling ofwell-being for ‘sound physiological reasons‘.
According to ‘a men’s magazine’. ‘the main constituent ofgarlic‘s volatile oil is the same basic organic chemical as the hormone secreted by women during sexual arousal.‘ Others include honey, full of goodness and a quick energy source; seafood, rich in minerals and vitamin E which apparently slows ageing and is concentrated in sexual areas; herbs and spices which cleanse the system and sharpen the senses; champagne which gives you a buzz but no hangover; and coffee which wakes you up when you are flagging.
The most recently published contribution to the subject is Max de Roche‘s The Foods of Love (Dorling Kindersley, £8.99). Within its quaint, be-ribboned cover are recipes for love potions, a catalogue of the most renowned aphrodisiacs, traditions attached to them, and suggestions for serving them to maximum effect, as well as a choice of menus for that special occasion. The emphasis is upon ancient and various sources — the wisdom of every corner of the Earth is here — rather than any explanation for often fantastic claims.
One entry reads: ‘Bull‘s blood: obtained from bull‘s testes. and coagulated by boiling or baking.‘ It is put into bullfighters‘ snacks which ‘carry strong reputations as aphrodisiacs in Spain. (They are efficient — I can recommend them.)’ The mind boggles as to the nature of de Roche’s research. One or two entries are more expansive and concur with scientific thinking. For example, ‘chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which stimulate the central nervous system, and phenylethylamine, which is similar to amphetamines and has an effect rather like the
72 The List 8— 21 March 1991