Monday, April 02, 2007

The Loves of Casanova.

Today, April 2nd …

Giacomo Casanova was born on this day in 1725 in Venice. Casanova apparently had many other interests, charms and habits (good and bad), but popular history has chosen to feature only his notorious womanising (the official number of seductions in his memoir was of a mere 122 women.) His last years, expelled from his own country and shunned by the man believed to be his biological father, he lived a dull and relatively friendless life as a librarian to an aristocrat in Bohemia.

Casanova loved food, it is said, almost as much as he loved women. At the age of 73 this was his remaining pleasure: he was described at that age as ‘no longer a god in the garden or a satyr in the forest, he is a wolf at table.’ In his more virile days, he supposedly used to his benefit the aphrodisiac effect of oysters, describing his particular method of serving thus:

‘I placed the shell on the edge of her lips and after a good deal of laughing, she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.’

Oysters have been considered aphrodisiacs since at least Roman times, and there may be something in the myth after all. Some American and Italian researchers recently published their findings in this regard. They found that oysters are very rich in amino acids, particularly those that stimulate the release of certain hormones. I bet those researchers have no problem finding volunteers for their follow-up research.

The aphrodisiac effect is said to only occur when the oysters are eaten raw. Should you dislike or fear raw seafood, or fear or not need this hormone boost, you can cook them of course. Here are some recipes from the time of Casanova, to give you some ideas.

From: The Country Housewife and Ladies Director; Richard Bradley (1732)

To stew Oysters. From Exeter.
Take large Oysters, open them, and save their Liquor; then when the Liquor is settled, pour off the Clear, and put it in a Stew-Pan, with some Blades of Mace, a little grated Nutmeg, and some whole Pepper, to boil gently, till it is strong enough of the Spices: then take out the Spices, and put in the Oysters to stew gently, that they be not hard; and when they are near enough, add a piece of Butter, and as much grated Bread as will thicken the Liquor of the Oysters; and just before you take them from the Fire, stir in a Glass of White-wine.

Roasted Oysters in Scallop Shells. From Exeter.
Provide some large scallop Shells, such as are the deepest and hollowest you can get, which Shells are sold at the Fishmongers at London; then open such a Number of Oysters as will near fill the Shells you design, and save the Liquor to settle; then pour a moderate quantity of the Liquor into each Shell, and put a Blade of Mace, and some whole Pepper with it; after which, put into your Shells a small piece of Butter, and cover the whole with grated Bread: then let these on a Grid-Iron over the Fire, and when they are enough, give the grated Bread at the tops of the Shells a browning with a red-hot Iron, and serve them.

The same Person who sent the foregoing Receipts, concerning Oysters, advises another way of roasting Oysters, which I think is a very good one, and not much known. It is, to take large Oysters, open them, and hang them by the finny part on a small Spit, after having first dipt them in the Yolk of an Egg, and roll'd them in Crumbs of Bread; turn them three or four times before the Fire, and baste them gently with Butter, till the Crumbs of Bread are crisp upon them, and serve them hot. As for their use in Sauces, they are proper with Fish, and are sometimes used with Fowls; their own Liquor is always put in such Sauces where they are used. For pickling of Oysters, the following is an excellent Receipt.

To pickle Oysters.
Open a quantity of large Oysters, saving their Liquor, and letting it settle; then pour the Liquor clear off into a Stew-pan, and wash the Oysters in Water and Salt: after which, boil them gently in their own Liquor, so that they are not too hard. When they are enough, take them out, and add to the Liquor some Mace, a few Cloves, some whole Pepper, a little Ginger, and a Bay-Leaf or two, and let the Liquor boil, putting to it about a fourth part of White-wine Vinegar, letting it continue to boil a little more; then take it off, and let it stand to be quite cold. When the Oysters are cold, put them into Jars or Gally-pots, and pour the Liquor with the Spice cold upon them; then tie them down with Leather.

Tomorrow’s Story …

An Endive by any other Name.

Quotation for the Day …

She knows no difference 'twixt head and privities who devours immense oysters at midnight. Juvenal, from his Satires, early 2nd C.

4 comments:

Lucy said...

Can't believe that I've only just discovered your wonderful blog.

I can see myself very contentedly reading into the wee hours as I roll through you previous posts!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Lucy, I'm glad you discovered me, because now I've discovered you - one of the delights of blogging, isnt it? I see you have a banana bread recipe too, just as I was about to look for one.

Freya and Paul said...

What a wonderful food blog you have! Full of fascinating information! I love it!

Barbara Walton said...

This is lovely. I'll add a link to my article on black pearls for Valentine's day, and possibly an article that I'm writing about pearls. Both in Squidoo. I love the sound of these recipes as I'm not a lover of raw oysters.