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Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day

When Satyrs Sit Down to Dine
Are spices aphrodisiacs?

How many men have traveled the world, braving the ocean gods from the Pillars of Hercules to the Ports of the Levant in search of spices! Often erroneously credited with aphrodisiac powers, few of these spices have come down to us through the centuries.
Contrary to tradition, chilies and pepper are not aphrodisiac, even though in India veils are still drawn over a bride's head, one containing sugar that her life might be sweet, another containing pepper that her life might have a little spice.

Throughout history, man has clung to these myths in order to provide himself with the psychological input necessary for his amorous activities.

Myths and Legends
Still believed in...

Others are still taken seriously in some parts of the world

Truffles make women more tender and men more amiable.
Parsley and mating among sheep
Saffron holds the sheets of love
Vanilla and savory reawaken the satyr
but one constant remains, unchanging

Ginger, the root that looks like a little man

India and the Amorous Language of Scents

In India, the perfume man holds in his hand a whole range of bamboo sticks, each tipped with scent-imbibed cotton. On the morning of a wedding, he comes to the groom and wisely smears the Adam's apple, navel and armpits of the future husband with mint, since Indian women, in the course of amorous embraces, like to rub their nose on these spots. He then anoints the ear lobes and throat with an arousing mixture of saffron and cypress.

And if the gentleman was awakened…
Of course, like many spices, cardamom is also (perhaps especially) renowned for its aphrodisiac powers. Hot wine flavoured with ground cardamom could wake a dead man who, they say, would immediately go out in search of women! In Greece, tarts and jams are flavoured with cardamom with the same goal in mind. Even the wise Cleopatra perfumed the rooms of her palace with cardamom for Mark Anthony…

Courtesans and Seducers

Madame de Pompadour seemed to know quite a lot about the subject…

Whether for a yes or a no, Madame de Pompadour seems to have the recipe. To increase her own ardour, she would eat a dozen egg yolks beaten with truffles, grated chocolate and celery… or a filet of sole. To maintain her royal lover's vigor, she would make him a celery gratin, and in the morning, some cress soup to revive him after a restless night before he went off to attend to his royal duties.

Favorite dishes of great courtesans and famous seducers
Each had a recipe…

  • Catherine of Russia, urged to provide an heir to the throne, replied "Bring me some caviar, and tonight at supper, send me the best built of my officers."
  • Diane de Poitiers served eel broth to Henri II
  • Gabrielle d'Estrées cooked up a bass filet with crayfish
  • the frisky Henri IV ate a clove of garlic every morning; Victor Hugo preferred onions
  • the Marquis de Sade aroused his conquests with savory
  • Casanova prepared a careful blend of quail eggs, anchovies, etc.

While the table offers no shortage of stimulating foods, a fine meal just for two is in itself a wonderful start. As Edward Fitzgerald wrote, "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread - and thou beside me…"

Herbs of love
Valentine's Day 1

As a romantic gesture, offer a bouquet of fresh herbs, each with its own message:

  • a bouquet of oregano to place your love under the sign of joy (Greece)
  • a bouquet of rosemary, as with Shakespeare's Juliet, to vow eternal love
  • a bouquet of marjoram to ensure continued happiness (Greece)

and if you know someone experiencing the distress of love, give them a potted mint plant, said to ease the soul's unhappiness.

Love powders & potions
Valentine's Day 2

 Many herbs and spices, such as lovage, were once placed into the kettle to simmer together.

In the French countryside, the village sorceress would compose a love powder of marjoram, verbena, thyme and myrtle flowers. A man would pay the price of gold for it, since the beautiful girl of his dreams needed only to breathe it in to be suffused by a great warmth and to agree to dance in her suitor's arms, wearing only a shift...

Recipes to prepare with love
 
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Rosemary Illustration: Flowers from Shakespeare's Garden, Walter Crane, England , 1906

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