Whenever I sit down with the intention of writing a post, my hand hovers over the ‘create post’ button for a moment before a voice in my head says ‘no Pip, you should be doing your dissertation’, and I quickly close my browser and shut my laptop. That’s not to say I then go and actually do my dissertation; instead I’ll probably stare at the small pile of library books building by my bedside, make a list of things I wants to achieve that day, rearrange my desk to allow for optimum productivity, and then go and do something completely different like hoover my room or go food shopping. So today, I thought I’d share some of the (mildly) interesting facts I’ve learned whilst doing my dissertation researching, because a) this means I won’t get dissertation guilt for doing this instead, b) if all else fails I can just submit this post in my dissertation to bulk up the word count, and c) some of this stuff I’ve found out is actually worth talking about. Mainly because it’s quite fun to picture 16th century men eating copious amount of peas because they thought the flatulence it caused will give them an erection (that’s right, they thought that erections were partly made up of ‘wind’, interesting fact no.1).
No, I’m not doing the whole of my dissertation on the elements that make up the male erection in the 16th century – although a good chunk of it will probably revolve around this. I’m actually doing it on the Early Modern concept of aphrodisiacs, and their use in Early Modern literature; think oysters, chilli, ginger, brains, Spanish flies, veal testicles – all the classic examples. So here’s a little list of some more interesting/strange beliefs that our ancestors had about sex, food and general anatomy.
- They thought women had balls. Despite a lot of debate as to whether this was the widely accepted theory of anatomy, there’s evidence to say that the majority of physicians believed that women and men shared a ‘one-sex model’ of reproductive organs; so we all have a cock and balls, according to them. But there’s logic behind this; men’s hotter bodies allowed for their genitalia to protrude outside their bodies, whilst women’s colder bodies meant that they had to keep their genitalia inside the body to preserve heat. This also meant that if a woman exerted herself too much, say, milking the cow too vigorously or stirring the stew too fast, she could overheat and her genitalia would drop from inside her, turning her into a man. Instant sex change.
- If it looked phallic, it was probably an aphrodisiac. This was called ‘sympathetic stimulation’ – think carrots, parsnips, leeks, animal genital, beans, almonds (I think they were quite loose in their definition of ‘phallic’ looking).
- If a pregnant woman was experiencing any bloating or ‘clogging of the passages’ (constipation), it was advised by Thomas Reynalde in ‘The Birth of Mankind: Otherwise Named The Woman’s Book’ to “receive a clister, but it must be very gentle and easy, made of a pint of the broth of chicken, or other tender flesh”. A clister is 16th century speak for an enema. An enema with chicken stock. But don’t worry, he assures the reader that it can be sweetened with as much honey as you please. He has some humanity.
- Ladies, if you want to add some spice to the bedroom, look no further than the Spanish fly. Thought to be one of the most potent aphrodisiacs, the fly was dried, crushed and sprinkled on food. But be warned, the Spanish fly was also one of the most notoriously dangerous aphrodisiacs; an excess of fly could lead to blistering, overheating and, in the worst cases, “continual standing of the yard”. Theophile Bonet has even recorded a case where a man “who by taking a large dose inwardly, so inflam’d himself he almost kill’d his wife”. I’ll leave the translation of this to your imagination.
- If your SO is out of town or not immediately reachable, go easy on the seasoning of your food. The author of ‘The Golden Practice of Physik’ noted that many foods may have been considered aphrodisiacs simply because they were seasoned heavily with pepper – one of the most potent heat-raisers (raised heat = the ultimate inducer of lust).
More cheeky facts will probably make their way onto the blog in time, but for now I must leave you with a recipe, and carry on with some ‘real work’ (I’ve just realised that the past 2 weeks worth of research has been the 16th century equivalent of reading Cosmopolitan).
The recipe below – incidentally, packed with 16th century aphrodisiacs like garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander – was actually intended to cure a cold I’ve had for the past week. It takes about 10 minutes, requires minimal attention, very little skill and relatively little ingredients. Add whatever meat, tofu or veg you please, and feel free to use whatever noodles you have to hand. I used rice noodles this time, but I normally use buckwheat soba noodles.
Kind of Vietnamese Miso Pho with Prawns (enough for 2)
1 thumb of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/2 red chilli, chopped
2 pints of chicken stock
1 tbsp miso paste (you can use white but I used red)
A dash of toasted sesame oil
A dash of tamari or soy sauce
A pinch of dark brown muscavado sugar
1 pack of stir fry veg (carrots, red onion, bean shoots, sliced peppers, mushrooms, water chestnuts)
Prawns/chicken/salmon/more veg/tofu – whatever you feel like adding
Noodles for 2 people
To serve: coriander, fresh mint, lime wedges, more chopped chilli, pea shoots, sesame seeds
- Heat a drizzle of oil in a large saucepan on medium and add the chilli, garlic and ginger, frying until fragrant. If you have leftover stalks from the coriander, chop them up finely and add them too.
- Pour in the stock and add the miso paste, stirring until dissolved.
- Add the sesame oil, tamari/soy sauce and sugar, and adjust to taste.
- If using meat, add whole and poach until cooked. Remove the meat, shred it and add it back to the saucepan along with the veg. If using prawns, add at the same time as the veg and poach for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the noodles according to instructions and portion into bowls.
- Add the soup to the bowls, and top with the pea shoots, coriander, mint leaves, juice from the lime wedge, chilli and sesame seeds.