Cooking for Cupid: A Review of Venus in the Kitchen by Pilaff Bey

Cooking for Cupid: A Review of Venus in the Kitchen by Pilaff Bey

 The recipes in Venus in the Kitchen were apparently collected with the aim of assisting various friends of the author revive their “declining vigour”. According to Bey’s introduction, they worked. Even if you have no need of the magical properties contained within the recipes of Venus in the Kitchen, the book is a lot of fun, and some of the recipes are even worth trying for their culinary rather than aphrodisiacal properties.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book
by Pilaff Bey
Edited by Norman Douglas
Introducton by Graham Greene
Bloomsbury, First published 1952, this edition April 2002
rrp A$29.95

The recipes in Venus in the Kitchen were apparently collected with the aim of assisting various friends of the author revive their “declining vigour”. According to Bey’s introduction, they worked. Even if you have no need of the magical properties contained within the recipes of Venus in the Kitchen, the book is a lot of fun, and some of the recipes are even worth trying for their culinary rather than aphrodisiacal properties. The simple almond soup which opens the book is rather delicious, as are the Pilaff of Mutton (I used normal lamb), stuffed peppers (left out the kidneys), and eggs a la gruyere. Some of the drinks sound delicious too, such as “Loving Cup”, which mixes sugar with orange flower essence, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, ale, sherry and soda water, or “Sorbet of Champagne”, which is exactly what it professes (this would work on me!). The introduction by Graham Greene is charming enough to stand on its own, and the brief descriptive comments, which one suspects were written by editor Douglas, are droll and interesting, with such touches as “appetising, if not efficacious”, or “It might prove difficult to procure so varied an assortment of wild fowls anywhere at one and the same time; difficult too, to stuff a bigger bird like the lapwing into a smaller one like the plover.”

Many of the recipes are actually meant to be outrageous rather than practical, and I found myself chuckling to such delicacies as Roti Sans Pareil, which starts with a large olived stuffed with a paste made of anchovy, capers, and oil (innocuous enough), and moves through the stuffing of the olive into a “bec-figue (garden warbler), and that into a fat ortolan, that into a boned lark, that into a boned thrush, and so on until the final product, a boned bustard (stuffed with a turkey which has been stuffed with a goose), into a roasting pan. I’m sure if you were up to making this dish, you would require a long sleep afterwards from your exertions and for your digestion, so any aphrodesiacal properties would be negated. Other humourous dishes include a marmelade of carnations (probably very fragrant), a stuffed pigs head (if that doesn’t put you off, nothing will), a simmered crane, lamb and bulls testicles, and filleted, fried skink (readily available in my part of the world).

The book is more of a read than a kitchen companion, but there are some lovely classic recipes amidst the grimace producing ones , and if you are really in need of a little help with your love life, you could do worse than trying out some of the potions described in this little pink book. For the rest of us, this book makes a nice addition to the literary/culinary shelf. The book has recently been republished, and was a cult classic in its day. The next time someone serves you a dish of salted skink, you’ll know exactly what they are after.

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