28 April 2009

Venus In the Kitchen

Norman Douglas was one of those fine, old-fashioned, Victorian born, homosexual aesthetes that populated the warm climates of the Mediterranean. He is best known for writing South Wind, more or perhaps less, the story of a clergyman traveling home to England from Africa who ends up on a small island. The sirocco or "south wind" of the island blows away the staid trappings of England in favor of the hedonist lifestyle of the island eccentrics.

Douglas' life was filled with large appetites and the ever present scandal, including some accusation of purchasing children. Toward the end of his life, he wrote a cookbook, extolling the aphrodisia of food. According to Douglas, the idea came about one evening when, "we had enjoyed a succulent dinner with several bottles of old red wine, followed by bitter lamentations on the part of the older members of the party over their declining vigor."

Venus in the Kitchen: Or Love's Cookery Book is the culmination of twelve years of intermittent research by Douglas. the book was published posthumously in 1952, the year Douglas, facing a long illness, took his own life. The book has been reprinted on many occasions. My favorite reprint was done 1992 and featured an introduction by Stephen Fry. Fry's introduction is the Pontiff Sauce poured over Douglas' recipes.

As Fry states in his introduction:

"Orthodox medicine has nothing encouraging to say on the subject of aphrodisiac foods. It brackets them and their claims together with homeopathy, herbalism, and psychic surgery as pitfalls of the gullible. A pair of doctors I have canvassed on the subject have offered it as their opinion that Douglas and his cronies would have found drinking a great deal less wine and grappa much more effective a remedy against impotence than any cooking up of larks or devising a new strain of eel-skin sausage."

Still, if you need to cook a crane, Douglas has your recipe.


Clean and truss a young crane, and put it in an earthenware saucepan with some water and vinegar, pepper and salt. Let it cook gently. When the liquid is reduced to half, take out the bird and put it in another saucepan with a little olive oil, a bunch of marjoram, some coriander seeds, and some stock. Let it simmer for nearly an hour, then add a glass of red wine which has been boiled previously, with a spoonful of honey, some lovage, cummin, benzoin root, and carraway seeds. If necessary add a little starch to thicken the liquid.
When cooked put the bird on a dish, and pour the sauce over it. Wild duck may be treated the same way.

Make sure it is a young crane, you don't want to go to all the work and end up with stringy crane.

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