So when I received a belated Christmas gift of "Venus in the Kitchen" (first printing 1952, Great Britain) last week, my first reaction centered on how well the giver knew me - after all, it's not going to suddenly make me cook more often - when I realize its real charm is the era, the locale and the language.
Allow me to point out that the introduction is by Graham Greene. Yes, that Graham Greene. Go on, call me the third (wo)man.
Let us - shall we? - go to page 80 for Pie of Bulls' Testicles that begins by instructing the cook to "take four of them and boil them in water and salt before you strip them of their membranes." Then there's layering inside the crust: sliced ham, sliced testicles, mince. Repeat.
But here's the real secret: "Add, before shutting the pie, a glass of wine. Put it in the oven and serve hot."
And let's talk standard measuring devices: Cut your celery into pieces about a finger long.
The reason to try the recipe for goose kidneys? "Made into croquettes cooked lightly in the oven, is admirable for warming cold spirits."
Because, honestly, who among us hasn't been plagued by cold spirits at some point?
Snails a la C.C.C. N.I. advises, "Feed your snails for a fortnight on milk. This is not difficult, you have only to put the snails in an earthen vessel and cover it with a lid. Every morning, just pour a glass of milk on the snails."
The only thing I ever poured on snails was salt and it wasn't pretty or delectable.
The next morning, take your guts, cut some of them into thin slices.
Snails a la C.C.C. N. III comes with the most enticing incentive of all: "An old friend ate this dish in Boldigidinga when he was there and declares that he found himself at least 10 years younger!"
Like fancy moisturizers, except with more hyperbole.
Remove all the outer skin of the breast of mutton and wash it well.
Appealing as Scalloped Crab sounds, it comes with the caveat: "Not very invigorating."
Well, then, why exactly would I bother?
Under "turkey with pickled pork and onion" the recipe notes: Jews of a certain age could profit by this, if it were not for the pork.
Duh. Between stating the obvious and wondering what the hell they're talking about, this sounds both presumptuous and prejudicial. Neither is appealing.
Lest you over-estimate the power of Oysters in Champagne, heed the advice of the recipe: "Not everybody cares to treat oysters in this fashion."
My only question is, why not?
And, given that we're smack in the middle of Valentine's season, how about a recipe for Skink (a reptile aphrodisiac)?
The skink is lauded as a stimulant by many ancients. The difficulty will be to find it. But if someone chances to be in Africa or Arabia, he will be able to do so."
Assuming there's no ban on incoming non-natives, that is.
Of Langouste a l'Americaine, the author advises: "Monselat declares that if the chaste Joseph had been given this dish by Potiphar's wife, she would not have been snubbed on that memorable occasion."
Of course I'm dying to know what occasion that was.
The recipe finishes with, "Arabs still make use of it; the ancient Greeks did likewise, and Pliny the elder has left us a Roman recipe which differs from the one here given."
But it also doesn't tell you any details on that Roman take on skink.
A big eel is necessary, from which you remove the inside. Wash well and skin, leaving the head attached to the skin. Put the skin in vinegar and water, and leave it there until you have done the next operation.
For those curious about that operation, it involves boiling the flesh, de-boning it and pulping the flesh in a mortar. Before you know it, you're serving it hot, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Baked eels does at least come damned with faint praise: Nothing can be better for those who like eels.
And because we live in an era of increasing nationalism, there is, "Americans of a certain age, if they cared more for game than they do, might learn to appreciate the mildly stimulating effects of this puree."
They might if they weren't such idiots.
And don't even consider trying Puree of Celery given its descriptor, "Rather banal, I venture to think."
Then we eliminate that recipe from the book entirely, no?
Consumme Viveur includes the enticing statement, "Very stimulating, indeed," while Crayfish Soup is labeled "an approved aphrodisiac."
Appropriately, the book ends with Tonic Wine, which marries wine with juniper berries, Peruvian bark and bitter quassia, which is then mixed with bitter orange syrup.
Drink a Madeira glass of this every day. Warmly recommended by an aged friend.
Warmly accepted by same. But the Venus reference? Hopefully yes, but not perhaps in the kitchen.