The Tale of Prince Bálint
and Aphrodisiac Soup
(e-SoupSong 22: February 1, 2002)
ONCE UPON A TIME, in a country far far away, a young prince pined with love for the ravishing Princess Wilhemina. She lived close by in a neighboring kingdom--may as well have been on the other side of Venus for all the good it did him, though.
Princess Willa was willowy. She was wise. She was wickedly willful. And she absolutely couldn't bear Prince Bálint.
That was his name: Bálint. "Valentine" in meaning, but he was no box of chocolates.
"What a boneheaded bozo," Willa would say to her friends. "Backward, belittling, bothersome. I think he's even balding a bit--right on the back of his bean. Did you see?"
There was no getting around it. He just irritated her to madness.
Prince Bálint was big. He was buff. He was a babe, but a boastful one. Before he'd met Willa he'd been blasé.
But then, "Go meet Willa, my son," his royal dad had said at the annual Valentine dance. "She's a winsome thing."
Bálint had heaved a sigh. He’d rather watch Washington Week, be "The Weakest Link," wash windows in the White House--anything but while away the time with a woman. But he knew his princely obligations...and wended his way Willa-ward.
"Well," he said conversationally, watching the dancers, "what a wexation. [Alas, an uncorrected speech disorder.] I’d rather work on Wall Street than waltz with a wench."
"Bored?" retorted Willa, her blue eyes snapping. "Better bored than bedridden," she added meaningfully.
Bálint looked up, surprised. "I am wery wery world weary, Willa," he said.
And she laughed in his face.
That was it. Her silvery laughter pealed in his ears, slipped through his auditory canals, bounced through his tympanic membranes, wound through his cochlea, slid over the auditory nerve, registered in his brain, fired off a couple synapses, then shot straight to his heart, arresting it, flipping it over, securing it with cuffs, and making him a prisoner of love.
"Whoa! Wow! Wonderful!" he gasped, hardly knowing what he was saying.
"Balderdash," replied Willa, and "back off, you bully!" as he reached to take her hand. With that, she picked up her skirts and swept out of the ballroom.
* * *
Prince Bálint spent a long miserable night, tossing and turning on his royal bed. "Willa," he wailed to the walls, "Where did I go wrong?"
Next day he speed-dialed Willa’s castle. “Will she go for a walk? Would she waterski? Would she consider windsurfing?”
No. No. And no. Willa wouldn’t give him the time of day. “Tell the boob to buzz off,” she told her friends. They brightly bore the news to Bálint.
* * *
Oh it was awful. Prince Bálint couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, wasted to a widget. Didn’t matter: Willa didn’t care.
Dad was full of advice. “Enough woe; you gotta woo,” he said. “Talk to the wizard.”
Now THERE was a thought. Bálint found his way to the tower, passing all the “Keep Out” signs, wading through the alligator pool, code-punching all the cipher-locked doors.
“Wizard!” he whispered through the last keyhole, “help me. Help me make this woman love me.”
The door flew open with a bang. “Dee-lighted, my boy,” said the wizard. “Nothing simpler.” And with that, he loaded up Bálint’s arms with Romance novels, Playboy magazines, curious works of fiction, Varro, Galen, the Kama Sutra, Pliny, Dioscorides, Apicius, Ovid, Nefzawi, Love Potion recipe books, Internet resources, and an assortment of cooking pots. “I recommend a soup delivery system, my boy. Love potions are all well and good, but aphrodisiac soups--now THEY heat things up tout de suite, if you know what I mean,” he said with a wink and a dig in the Prince’s ribs. “Get it? Hee hee, get it?”
Prince Bálint looked at him coldly and gave him a push. “Wamoose, you warlet!” he bristled. And he staggered back to his room, laden down with all the makings of love.
* * *
“Whoa!” the Prince thought, reading to himself, “what weirdness. Hippo snouts and hyena eyeballs; oysters and onions; snakes and gonads; powdered rhino horn and Spanish fly, eringo and tiger pizzle, and oh thank goodness, some nut and wegetable philtres too.
“What about almonds?” he thought. “Samson wooed Delilah with them; Sheik al Nefzawi swore by them; Alexandre Dumas dined on almond soup before dallying with his diva.” He opened Venus in the Kitchen, or Love’s Cookery Book. “Woila! right on page one: Almond Soup. Okay, here we go.”
PILAFF BEY/NORMAN DOUGLAS’ ALMOND SOUP
Blanch a quart of almonds and pound them in the mortar with the yolks of six hard-boiled eggs till they come to a fine paste. Mix them by degrees with a quart of chicken stock, and a quart of cream. Stir well together, and when well mixed, put in a saucepan over a gentle fire, and keep stirring all the time. Take care it does not curdle. Serve when hot.
Prince Bálint took a sip. “Woluptuous!” he said, and blushed when he thought of it lapping Willa’s lips. He hotfooted it over to Willa’s castle. He rang the bell. “Waste no time,” he said to the doorman, “it’s for Willa from her woebegone well wisher.”
Next day he called her on her cell phone. "Was it wonderful? Do you want to see me?"
“No,” said Willa. “Bad it was; it gave me a bellyache.” Click, disconnect. End of conversation.
* * *
Bálint, abashed, went back to the drawing board.
“Fennel, what about fennel?” he thought to himself. Flipping through dusty manuscripts, he found it under Foeniculum vulgare: Ancient Egyptians prescribed it as an aphrodisiac. Check. Ancient Hindus ordered up fennel soup to stimulate desire. Check. Ancient Greeks wore crowns of it at Dionysian rites and turned each other on with it. Check. Okay, here we go.
SYBARITIC FENNEL SOUP (for 2)
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cut in small pieces, reserving fronds
- ¾ cup dry white wine (sauvignon blanc is nice)
- 1 chicken bouillon cube (or 1 teaspoon chicken soup base)
- ½ cup cream
- white pepper and salt
Bring the wine to a boil in a saucepan, scrape in the fennel pieces and the chicken bouillon cube, lower heat, cover, and simmer til tender, about 10 minutes. Puree, solids first. If you want a very smooth soup, press through a sieve. Return to the saucepan, heat, and stir in the cream. Let simmer for a few minutes. Finely grind white pepper over the soup and stir in. Taste to see if it needs any salt. Ladle into two small bowls and serve hot to you and your honey, sprinkling finely minced fennel fronds over each right before you take to table.
“Wants inwigorating,” Prince Bálint thought to himself. He sprinkled in some leftover almonds.
Then he hotfooted it over to Willa’s castle. He rang the bell. “Waste no time,” he said to the doorman, “it’s for Willa from her wit’s-end wooer.”
Next day he called her on her cell phone. “Was it wonderful? Do you want to see me?”
“No,” said Willa. “Bland it was; it made me bilious.” Click, disconnect. Woe, woe, oh welladay woe.
* * *
“Worse and worse,” said Bálint out loud. “I’ll give those ancient wise guys one last try. What about pine nut soup? Varro, yes. Apicius, yes. Galen, yes. Ovid, yes...right here in Ars Amatoria, ‘the nuts that the sharp-leaved pine brings forth.’ Medieval medical books, yes.
"And maybe saffron in it too. Says here Aristophanes’ woman was ‘redolent with saffron, voluptuous kisses, the love of spending, good cheer, and of wanton delights.’ Oh yeah, that's what I’M talking about. Okay, one more time. Here we go":
SAFFRONED PINE NUT SOUP OF LOVE (for 2)
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 3 raw egg yolks
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup cream
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron
Puree the pine nuts and the egg yolks in a blender, adding the chicken stock slowly until you have a very smooth paste, then adding the rest of the stock and blending until completely smooth. Pour into a saucepan, then whisk in the cream. At this point, heat the saffron in a spoon over a burner until you can just smell it, then rub between your palms into the soup, whisking well to distribute the color and flavor. Heat the soup very carefully on low—it must never boil or it will separate—until hot and slightly thickened. Season with a pinch of salt, just enough to bring the flavor out.
“Hmmmm,” Bálint reflected. “Tastes wonderful, looks wan. Willa’s whistle needs whetting not just wetting.” So he sprinkled the soup with leftover fennel fronds and some toasted almonds for good measure. Then he hotfooted it over to Willa’s castle. He rang the bell. “Waste no time,” he said to the doorman, “it’s for Willa from her wild-eyed whipping boy.”
Next day he called her on her cell phone. Again. “Was it wonderful? Do you want to see me?”
“No,” said Willa. “Buttery it was; it made me burn. And those fennel bits—what were you thinking?” Click, disconnect.
* * *
“It’s working! Willa’s warming! Well-nigh a conwersation!” Bálint rhapsodized. “One more soup and she’s mine.”
Bálint reached for the sourcebook on modern aphrodisiacs. Aha! The Dallas Morning News reports “East Texas State anthropology student Denise Boesewetter interviewed subjects on modern love potions. Of 46 respondents, half mentioned green M&Ms as a powerful inducer of sexual desire.”
“Okay,” he said, “here we go.”
PRINCE BALINT’S OWN PROVOCATIVE ALMOND-PINE NUT SOUP FESTOONED WITH FENNEL AND GARNISHED WITH GREEN M&Ms (for 1)
Heat each soup in separate pots. When ready to serve, pour the pine nut soup into a flat soup plate to make a sunshiney background. Carefully pour the almond soup directly into the middle of the pine nut soup to make a round face.
- 1 cup almond soup (see above)
- 1 cup saffroned pine nut soup (see above)
- fennel fronds
- green M&Ms
Then arrange the M&Ms to make 2 green eyes, a button nose, and a smiley mouth.
Use the fennel fronds to make eyebrows and hair.
Prince Bálint was whistling with glee. “Winsome, it is,” he warbled. “Willa will want me.” And he hotfooted it over to her castle. He rang the bell. “Waste no time,” he said to the doorman, “it’s for Willa from her wishful swain.”
Next day he called her on her cell phone. “Was it wonderful? Do you want to see me?”
“Willa, was it wonderful? Want to see me?”
He thought he heard a sob. Or was it a giggle?
A strange voice came on the phone. “Better beat it, bud,” it barked.
* * *
Bálint hotfooted it over to Willa’s castle. Banged on the door. Blew past the doorman. “Willa! Willa!” he wailed. “Where’s Willa?”
Castle watchmen caught him, pinned him down.
“Willa!” he wept. “Where’s Willa?”
Willa walked out, wobbly. “Bálint, you blithering blockhead. Bilious and bellyached and barfing I’ve been from your broths. Sick abed, on my back, tabescent.”
Bálint blanched, brokenhearted.
Willa weighed her words, watching him. “Why?” she wondered, “Why the waggery?”
Bálint blushed. “Because...” he blurted, “Because, beloved...because my blood beats for you; my breast breaks for you; because I burn; because I’ve got it bad.”
Willa waved away the watchmen. She sat beside Bálint. “But broths?”
“Wizard swore they’d work.”
“They’d make a bishop blush. Barbaric, beastly, bacterial. But...but brilliantly barmy, too.” She bit her lip. “Bewitched I think I am: you broke my funnybone; you make me blithesome.”
Bálint brightened. “Willa, these are welcome words!”
Wary, he waited. No other words from Willa, though. His color waxed and waned. Suddenly: “Willa, won’t you be my Walentine?”
“Walentine?” she bantered.
Bálint blushed again. “Be my bride. Be bone of my bones. Be my buttercup.”
“Wedded?” Willa wondered.
“And bedded,” Bálint beamed. “For better...”
“...And,” whispered Willa, “and for worse.”
Best wishes for a loving Valentine's Day,
Resources include: Special thanks to Mick Vann for his article "Weird Food Aphrodisiacs" in the Austin Chronicle and Art Meyer for his kind gift of Hilary Johnstone and Craig Dodd's Aphrodisiac Foods. Also, Aristophanes' "The Clouds"; Jim Crace's The Devil's Larder; Norman Douglas' Venus in the Kitchen, or Love's Cookery Book; Marilyn Ekdahl Ravicz' Erotic Cuisine: A Natural History of Aphrodisiac Cookery; Johan Santesson's Guide to Aphrodisiacs at www.santesson.com; and a variety of news articles.
* * *
NEXT MONTH: IT'S ABOUT TIME YOU KNEW--THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF SOUP