Mrs Aitch gave this to me this morning; as a present for Valentine's Day. Venus in the Kitchen or Love's Cookery Book was first published in 1952, edited by Norman Douglas (the subversive author of South Wind) and with an introduction by Graham Greene.
It's a collection of recipes with an aphrodisicial twist: Sturgeon Soup à la Chinoise, Black Risotto, Kidneys with Champagne, Oyster Cocktail, Artichoke Bottoms, Wild Boar. Many of the recipes have an Italian flavour, which is not surprising, as the author lived in exile on the island of Capri. The blurb on the front dust jacket reads:
The author explains that "after a succulent dinner with several bottles of red wine", some of the elder guests began to lament their declining vigour. Someone suggested that there must be certain dishes whose ingredients and spices would be likely to revive the fading ardours of middle age. The author then began to make a collection of these recipes.
I love old books like this: the slightly musty smell, the browning to the edge of the crisp, acidic paper, the decidedly old-fashioned pen-and-ink graphics ("decorations by Bruce Roberts"). And then there are those interesting bits of ephemera which fall out of books: old tickets, bookmarks, postcards, even letters. In this one some dreadful old goat had bookmarked the page opening at "Pie of Bull's Testicles" with a torn piece of old newspaper, leaving a tell-tale foxing mark behind on the page.
Here's Norman Douglas's recipe for Anchovy Toast:
Cut some slices of bread, toast nicely, trim to any shape required. Have ready a hot-water plate, on which put four ounces of butter; let it melt; add the yolks of four raw eggs, one tablespoon of anchovy sauce, Nepaul pepper to taste. Mix all well together, and dip the toast in, both sides; let it well soak into the mixture. Serve very hot, piled high on a dish, and garnished with parsley.
Anchovies have long been famed for their lust-provoking virtues.
Norman Douglas's last words were: "Get those f*****g nuns away from me".