A Cookbook for the Seducer
Last February I shared my theory that food and sex are inextricably linked. What we eat mirrors how we like our sex, in a matter of speaking. I brought up this argument during book club, where we were then reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, which I mentioned in that same post. There was a brief discussion, and I think some believers, though it's hard to say for sure. Maybe it's because we're in the South that few women seem to enjoy talking about sex as much as I do. Or maybe it's just that 15-year old boy trapped in my nearing 40 female body who expresses a deeper and arguably obsessive interest for the subject than most. My therapist said I'm not special. I'm just like everyone else; I'm human. And fairly certain we all think about sex most all the time.
In any case, when I read about the venerable Mimi Sheraton's 1962 The Seducer's Cookbook I felt vindicated. I'm not the only one! (For those of you who think the previous statement from my therapist about not being special was rude of her, I'd like to remind you that all any of us want is to be not-alien, if you know what I mean.) The very brilliant Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org published a piece on this treasure of a cookbook last year. The book is out of print now - I was fortunate to find one in great condition for less than $40 on amazon.
The cookbook reads as a guide for those wanting to seduce, be it your wife, your husband, someone else's husband, and everyone in between. Sheraton's tongue in cheek prose, reflective of her honest, dry sense of humor, is at times hilarious, at times feminine retro to the point of submission, and in some places reads so outlandish - over fifty years later - that passages from Helen Gurley Brown's 1982 Having it All, which Lena Dunham credits as being a similar, awkward inspiration in her new book Not That Kind of Girl, which I'm currently devouring, come to mind.
The Seducer is sprinkled with philosophical pearls like Publius Syrus' "No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety," Plato's "Everything that deceives may be said to enchant," and from the Marquis de Sade, "A good dinner can cause a physical voluptuousness." Pages of insight and humor are marked with menus for specific occasions like seducing someone else's spouse, corresponding recipes, and are illustrated by Paul Coker of Mad magazine fame. The book is dedicated to "Dick," Sheraton's second husband, Richard Falcone, I presume. My copy carries an additional inscription that reads, "For Beryl - with love, and love, and love - Marcia, November 1965"
While Sheraton's recommendations for dialogue, décor, dress, drink and recipes to lure, is great fun, it also presents plenty of back-up for my argument, complete with passages from works by Henry Miller, Casanova, Cato and the Marquis himself, that sex and food are mutually dependent. She writes,
"Perhaps the greatest advantage of this method of seduction is the fact that you can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats - about the extent of his physical appetites and the way they are satisfied. There are those who will try anything offered to them, no matter how new or exotic, while others refuse to accept any but the most familiar fare - obviously not the adventurous type out for new experiences.
Women who are diet-conscious should, when some tempting morsel is presented, throw caution to the wind and eat without a thought for tomorrow. An air of abandon must prevail sometimes, and if not at the table, then probably not in bed either; while a man who appears to be turning into one of Circe's swine after dinner may display the same propensities when satisfying his other physical urge...
If a woman consistently orders sickeningly sweet, over-elaborate whipped-cream desserts, she may be given to equally sticky goodbyes, and a man who overeats on one course and then has to pass up the rest of the meal doesn't know how to pace himself and could be a problem later in the evening."
The book is a delight, so if you happen to come across a copy, I highly recommend taking it home with you, even if you have to steal it. If you aren't familiar with Mimi Sheraton, former New York Times restaurant critic and author of 13 books, read this 2004 interview. Both she and this book are American treasures.