If you wanted to be cynical, you could argue that Aphrodite is essentially a drummed up aphrodisiac cookbook – after all, it talks about food, it talks about love, it talks about passion for both, so I guess you could be justified. A quick search on Amazon throws up a whole list of “erotic cookbooks” where the celluloid clichés of strawberries, chocolate, oysters and champagne and the 101 ways with asparagus to make him want you more feature highly.
And yet, Aphrodite is a very different beast. The author – Issabel Allende – Chilean writer associated with the “magical realism” literary movement, throws in a little bit of …well… magic into this beautifully written and greatly imaginative potion of a book.
To say that Aphrodite is a cookbook would be a huge simplification and a great injustice to this book. It is a part memoir, part travelogue through artistic, poetic and literary references to sex and food and part recipe collection. It is also wildly self deprecating and humorous account of the writer’s long standing love affair with food.
How can you not love a book which begins:
“I repent of my diets, the delicious dishes rejected out of vanity as much as I lament the opportunities for making love that I let go by because of pressing tasks or puritanical virtue”.
For Allende the world of sensuality does not make a strict distinction between the pleasures of the flesh and pleasures of the table – the two are intrinsically intertwined. What I love about her book is that she goes beyond the cartoonish portrayal of what that relationship might be and she finds sensual pleasures in the most common of recipes – the earthy flavours of Bouillabaisse soup, Osso bucco or humble rice pudding – accompanied by stories from either writer’s own experience or that of her friends, and richly illustrated by numerous artistic references and dripping with poetic quotes.
The first half of the book is a delicious journey through history and exploration of what the relationship between the lust for food and lust for love looked like. We look back to the ancient
[…]the tender eel
to serve our appetites.
its irate fragrance,
blend the minced garlic
until the onion
is the color of gold. […]
The second part of the book is a collection of recipes – Sauces, Hors D’oeuvres; soups, main courses, and desserts. The selection of courses is very cosmopolitan and varied – you will find there foods that are commonly perceived as aphrodisiacs, as well as ones that may surprise you.
You might want to try this simple dessert:
This was the favourite dessert of my sainted aunt Teresa, who despite the purest of souls acquired a coquettish gleam in her eye when served this treat.
1 large pear, peeled and halved
Hollow out the core of the pear halves and fill with lemon juice to prevent it from turning dark. Combine ricotta, honey, lemon zest, and nutmeg and fill the core with mixture. Refrigerate. Mix together the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, and heat to make a thick, fragrant syrup. Pour over the chilled pear halves and serve immediately.