Food and Love: The two seem to have always been connected in an intimate dance of the senses. Do you ever think about it and wonder why the two are so intertwined? For many of us, the most memorable (and sensuous) times of our lives have often been around food and wine. Friends, lovers and the dining table are all folded in together like some great soufflé.
For all of recorded history, claims have been made that certain foods increase sexual potency and desire. I’ve never found a complete listing of these, but there must be hundreds. The Chinese tout shark fin and birds nest (real ones) soups. The Scottish swear by haggis, a mixture of minced sheep innards mixed with oatmeal and spices and then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled for 4 hours (Scots obviously have a different sense of sensuality!). The Aztecs include cocoa and chocolate (which interestingly were forbidden to their women), The Greeks revered pine nuts according to Ovid, Pliny mentioned hippopotamus snout and hyena eyes and every culture seems to have used oysters. Additionally, caviar, snails and the eggs, glands and genitals of all kinds of birds, animals and fish are said to provide special powers. Even prunes were so highly regarded as an aphrodisiac in Elizabethan times that they were freely served in brothels. Wine of course has always been included in the mix.
In the garden, apples, asparagus, figs, bananas, cucumbers, leeks, peppers, tomatoes, avocadoes have all been attributed with special sexual potentials at one time or another. The obvious connection being that many of them resemble human genitalia. Herbs and edible flowers including roses, lavender, catnip, passion flower, saffron, savory and ginseng root have been celebrated for their special powers.
Anthropologist Peter Farb observed that the association between food and sex has existed since man started walking upright. Eating brings couples into close proximity in a situation that does not call for defensive tactics. When you think about it, eating can bind a couple more effectively than sex simply because people eat more often and predictably than they have sexual relations.
M.F.K. Fisher notes in her wonderful little book An Alphabet for Gourmets that gastronomy has always been connected with its sister art of love. Passion and sex is the “come-and-go, the preening and the prancing, the final triumph or defeat, of two people who know enough, subconsciously or not, to woo with food as well as flattery”.
Here is a recipe for one of the most famous aphrodisiacs– oysters! Enjoy them with someone special. For Valentine’s Day, or any other romantic occasion.
Oysters on the Half Shell
Oysters can be little intimidating to open an oyster but there are all kinds of videos on the web to make the task easy. Classically oysters are served raw on the half shell with a little mignonette sauce which refers in French to “black pepper”. I’ve also included below a delicious alternative concocted by the folks at Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay in Northern California, my favorite source for oysters. Place the oysters on a bed of coarse salt or crushed ice to keep them from tipping and losing their delicious liquor. This is delicious with 2011 Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay.
Classic French Mignonette
2/3 cup good quality champagne or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons peeled and finely diced shallot
2 teaspoons or more fresh cracked black pepper
Combine ingredients in a glass or stainless bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
(Adapted from Hog Island Oyster Company)
1/2 cup natural rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peeled and finely diced shallot
2 teaspoons seeded and finely diced Jalapeno pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Stir first 5 ingredients together until sugar dissolves. Stir in cilantro just before serving.