Food for love

Love, whose month is ever May…           

Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

BasilMost people will know that oysters are considered to be one of the top foods when it comes to love but did you know that basil also has claims as an aphrodisiac?

May Day, has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of summer even though the months of June, July and August are officially thought of as the season.  It’s no wonder that May is the month of love though; it’s an optimistic time of year with the promise of warmer weather, clear skies, thriving crops and blooming flowers just around the corner.  You’ll still find a few Morris Dancers and May Queens adorned with garlands of flowers in some parts of the country but however quaint and innocent it might look, it’s all in honour of one thing, fertility and sex.

Although, scientifically, there is little firm evidence that foods really can act as aphrodisiacs, (beyond a placebo effect that is) claims for certain foods can be traced back to ancient times and these foods are still generally turned to in order to get in the mood for love.  While any truth in the assertions remains yet to be proven these are often things we’d enjoy eating regardless.  We’ve been having a look at some of the well-known and more obscure suggestions and compiled a list of foods you just might want to consider if you are planning a special night in! 

  • We all know that chocolate is purported to be able to give us a little boost and most people would swear that it does.  Popping a piece of chocolate into our mouths usually has a positive effect on our mood so perhaps it can, indirectly, be termed an aphrodisiac.      
  • The English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote in the 1600s that asparagus, stirs up lust in man and woman’ and in 19th century France three courses of the spears were served to bridegrooms the night before their wedding. 
  • It’s no wonder that avocados have an association with sex.  It was the shape of the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree that led to it being known as the ‘testicle tree’ by the Aztecs and also its ban in Spain by Catholic priests. 
  • Chilli peppers contains capsaicin, a chemical which increases circulation and stimulates nerve endings.  Guaranteed to get the blood pumping faster!  
  • We know red wine is a relaxant, contains antioxidants and can help boost blood flow and circulation but is it also an aphrodisiac?  Perhaps this quote sums it up the best; alcohol ‘provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance’! (Shakespeare, Macbeth)   
  • Almonds have been linked to fertility since ancient times.  The aroma of almonds was said to arouse passion, particularly in women.  
  • With links to the Bible, Cleopatra (apparently it was her favourite fruit) and the ancient Greeks, figs have also long been associated with love and fertility.   
  • Trawling through pages on the internet you can find claims that the pomegranate has both aphrodisiac and contraceptive qualities!  Take from that what you will!       
  • As already mentioned, it has been claimed that basil is an aphrodisiac, in particular the smell which is said to increase heart rate and excitement.
  • Other foods said to act as aphrodisiacs include vanilla, banana, honey, watermelon, garlic, red berries, raw meat, gin (or juniper berries but then why not gin?!), puffer fish and turtle eggs.
  • Finally, certain kinds of ants found in China and South America and loaded with energy giving nutrients are also said to be powerful aphrodisiacs but perhaps we’d be happier to accept other people’s word for it…!

Happy cooking (and eating)!

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A taste of the season!

We’re still in time for a couple of highlights of the late spring/early summer growing season and two firm favourites with the ffO team.

Asparagus spears!

Asparagus has always been a prized ingredient mostly because it’s in season for such a short time in the year.  Coveted by the Romans, the spears usually make an appearance in early May and for around eight weeks they are pared and trimmed, steamed and grilled and enjoyed by people all over the country (here we’re talking about the green variety rather than the white that is favoured on the continent).  This year, the prolonged wet weather earlier in the season meant that the asparagus has been a bit later in making a show but that does mean we’ve still got time to savour the taste!  (The heavy rain has had another, rather unfortunate, effect on the crop, kicking sand and grit up into the tips resulting in the need for lots of rinsing…sigh!)           

Here in the ffO Kitchen we use asparagus in many different ways across our menus but at home we think British asparagus should be enjoyed simply; lightly steamed and then drizzled with melted butter and seasoned with salt and black pepper.  We might also char grill a few spears on the barbecue (if we get a break between showers!) and serve drizzled with olive oil and shavings of pecorino.    

Rhubarb & Ginger Ice Cream

Another favourite of ours, (although a bit like Marmite for some!) and in season for a bit longer than asparagus (hurrah!) is rhubarb.  Some of you might have been enjoying forced rhubarb for some time already this year but field grown rhubarb is being harvested now and should be available for the next couple of months.  For some, forced rhubarb is superior with its tender stems and delicate flavour.  Field rhubarb generally has a more robust texture and taste and often needs more sugar to counter the acidity.  To be honest though, we really can’t get enough of either so the longer the season the better in our mind! 

We always make a few batches of rhubarb and ginger ice-cream at this time of year, experimenting with quantities of sugar, ginger and ginger syrup to get the perfect result!  Remember; when making ice cream some of the flavour is ‘lost’ in the freezing so make sure you achieve a good strong taste before you turn it to ice!  We start with a custard base and add puréed rhubarb and small chunks of stem ginger and extra syrup to taste before churning in an ice cream maker.  Delicious!

Incidentally, experimenting with ice cream flavours is not a new trend.  According to food historian Jeri Quinzio, we’ve been trying different ingredient combination since the 17th and 18th centuries, including brown or rye bread, cheese, rose petals, foie gras and… asparagus!  (Jeri Quinzio in the essay ‘Asparagus Ice Cream, Anyone?’ from the Spring 2002 edition of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol.2 No.2)  http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2002.2.2.63

What’s good to cook and eat now.

Among other ingredients in season and at their best at this time of year, look out for the following over the next few weeks: 

  • Asparagus (cook and eat it as soon as you can after buying but watch out for gritty tips after all the rain!)
  • Rhubarb (ice cream, crumble, compote, fool, stewed, with custard… also excellent with oily fish such as mackerel, don’t just think desserts!)
  • New Potatoes (particularly Jersey Royals)
  • Wild Nettles (pick and cook when young as they will be tender and less bitter than older plants)
  • Herbs & Salad Leaves (particularly Chervil, Parsley, Chives, Mint, Chicory, Rocket & Sorrel)
  • Elderflowers (around and ready to pick now for cordials and fritters!)