How to get all worked up about food.
SHELTER ISLAND—”Whatever it is, it’s working!” exclaimed Adam as we drove down the road with two aromatic roast Crescent Farm ducks in the backseat. We were conducting “research” on edible East End aphrodisiacs, and the temptation of these succulent birds, their gamey rich scent filling the car, was almost too much to bear.
To be sure, it was the ducks, not the driver, my passenger longed to devour. At least he had the decency to wait until we got back to my place, where a group of local “arousavores” was convening for dinner to savor an array of aphrodisiacal foods from nearby purveyors—and, perhaps, to put their seductive properties to the test. As a part-time resident of eastern Long Island and a full-time devotee of all things aphrodisiac (who isn’t?), I’d spent a couple of days gathering delicacies along Aphrodite’s East End trail, and now wanted to share them with friends (among them a sex expert and fellow food writer). One can’t fully enjoy aphrodisiacs alone, after all.
Aphrodite’s LOCAL Bounty
As if its glowing sunsets, half-naked beachgoers, and all-around natural beauty weren’t arousing enough, the fertile East End of Long Island is replete with aphrodisiac foods that pique desire and stimulate the appetites, season by season.
Fragrant red strawberries spill forth from farm stands at summer’s start, giving way to nipple-like raspberries later in the season. Heady garlic, rich in blood-flow-inducing arginine, crops up around August, as does its sublime companion, the tomato, aka the love apple. (K.K. Haspel, twinkly eyed Southold farmer, touts late summer’s smoky Black Prince tomatoes: “How can you not love having a handsome prince?” she asks. “It’s every woman’s dream!”) Firm purple-tipped stalks of asparagus, fortifying spinach, fleshy round peaches dripping with juice, each stoke our cravings in different months and moods. Fiery fresh chili peppers from Garden of Eve in Riverhead and Asian hot pepper sauces from Sang Lee in Peconic quicken the pulse and tingle the tongue. Mounds of basil, mint and lavender—all of which appear in ancient recipes for love potions—beckon from roadside stands with their intoxicating scents. (Aroma can be as powerful as taste in stimulating desire.)
Aphrodite herself would smile on the ladies at A Taste of the North Fork in Peconic, who magically transform rugosa rose and lemon verbena into quivering jellies. Their chocolate wine sauce, made with local merlot, is another alchemical treat. These titillating delicacies can be found in Mattituck at the Sweet Shoppe right on—what else?—Love Lane. Buy a bâtard or sevengrain loaf from Blue Duck Bakery in Southampton or Southold, or at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market, and rip off a hunk to dip in the chocolate wine sauce. “To die for!” says Blue Duck emissary Lee-Ann DeRosa with a heavenward gaze.
Fresh-laid eggs (the very words are suggestive) are at once wholesome and lascivious; fertile ones, with their hint of happy couplings (roosters, you see, aren’t needed for a hen to lay a nonfertile egg), can be had at Ty Llwyd Farm in Jamesport. Buckwheat, clover, or apple blossom-scented honey from Mary Woltz in Sag Harbor fuels the bees’ needs and humans’ desires. Perhaps East End beekeepers and innkeepers can conspire to leave jars of the local nectar on the nightstand for honeymooning couples.
My aforementioned friend, Adam (Suprenant), winemaker at Osprey’s Dominion in Peconic, makes a sparkling salmon-hued rosé that belongs on anyone’s short list of aphrodisiacal beverages, along with crisp, berry-tinged still rosés like Corey Creek’s and Channing Daughters’s. These lovely wines flush the cheeks and loosen inhibitions, not to mention pair marvelously with summer seafood.
Speaking of which, “What about oysters?” you must be asking by now. You’re right. No story on aphrodisiacs is complete without them (and their relatives, mussels, clams and most other denizens of the sea). With their suggestive shape and scent, Vitality-enhancing mineral content, hint of luxury and family ties to Aphrodite herself (she was famously born of the sea, and gave birth to Eros on an oyster shell), these alluring bivalves are the consummate aphrodisiac, and we East Enders have the likes of Ed Jurczenia (Pipes Cove), Mike Osinski (Widow’s Hole) and Karen Rivara (the soon-to-launch Peconic Pearls) to thank for restoring the riches of Peconic Bay to the benefit of our economy, ecology, and just maybe, sex lives.
Which brings us back to our sultry Shelter Island tasting.
The Joy of Shucking
Our aphrodisiac feast kicked off with the culinary equivalent of a stacked deck: Two dozen oysters, freshly plucked from Pipes Cove (or, more proximately, from the briny bins of Alice’s Fish Market in Greenport), and a couple of bottles of Adam’s clean 2006 sauvignon blanc. Deborah and Jonathan (a nutritionist and publisher of the Organic Wine Journal, respectively) bravely lost their shucking virginity that night. Tutored earlier by fishmonger Mary Bess Phillips, they slowly perfected their “snip, shuck” technique in my kitchen, laying bare beguiling platters of creamyfleshed, sea-salty mollusks for our collective indulgence. Some have been taught to shun oysters in the warm summer months when they’re spent from spawning, but these were fairly plump, sweet and delicious.
Apparently they did the trick, for Jonathan and Deborah were later spied in an amorous embrace on a secluded corner of the deck, which goes to show that shucking can lead to, well, other things.
GILDING THE DUCKLING
The oysters consumed, we turned our attention to the tantalizing Long Island ducks. “The ultimate purpose of aphrodisiacs,” novelist and aphrodisiac expert Isabel Allende advises, “is to incite carnal love, but if we waste all our time and energy in preparing them we won’t have much left for luxuriating in their effects.” Heeding her counsel, we let the culinary lovebirds at Reddings Fine Foods do the work—two days’ worth, to be exact: Chef Matt Danzer, who, with his girlfriend, Ann Redding, runs the new Shelter Island gourmet store, tenderizes and cures the birds overnight, roasts them, sprays them with a tamari glaze, coats them with a savory meringue with sherry vinegar and tingly Szechuan peppercorns, then finally deep-fries the whole creatures to crisp, delectable perfection.
Our energy conserved for post-production, we set about quartering the Crescent Farm beauties, then greedily devouring them. Those with an iota of restraint intermingled bites of succulent duck meat with dabs of the shimmering rugosa rose jellyand chocolate wine sauce from A Taste of the North Fork. Slightly over the top but utterly irresistible, as aphrodisiacs should be. (A drizzle of Orient Farm lavender honey would have been equally rewarding.)
Ruby red beets and tender sugar snaps rounded out our meal, but, depending on the season, East End aphrodisiaphiles would do as well with asparagus, beans (historically banned in some convents as a presumed threat to chastity) and, yes, even the humble bulbous turnip.
A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN
Throughout history and in virtually every place and culture, people have turned to certain foods to arouse amorous desire, imbuing them with erotic properties based on their appearance, scent, rarity, mythological associations and supposed physiological effects on heart rate, blood flow and sex hormone production.
Do aphrodisiacs really work? In the realm of love and sexual desire, thinking just may make it so (after all, the biggest sex organ, as Dr. Ruth has said, is the one between the ears). Perhaps the greater test is whether aphrodisiacs bring out animal passion in, well, animals? An unexpected guest at our aphrodisiac dinner party gave us the perfect opportunity to find out.
Faust, a handsome red-tailed African grey parrot who lives across the street, arrived with his people—an assortment of artists, shrinks and wine importers—in time for dessert. (He thankfully showed up after we had consumed his quacking cousins.) Faust tucked into a goblet of Grand Marnier-scented local strawberries flecked with fresh mint. The humans had their berries and liqueur over mango sorbet and vanilla ice cream, toasting one another with flutes of Adam’s award-winning 2002 sparkling rosé de noir.
Soon Faust started cooing, soft moans building to more insistent sounds that some took as signs of ecstasy. His tail feathers stiffened, his head cocked flirtatiously to one side, and, suddenly enamored, he boldly sidled up to Adam’s neck and began nuzzling his cheek. Adam’s own preferences run decidedly toward wine and women, not African grey parrots, but he received the bird’s affections with a warm grin.
Faust’s aphrodisiac-inspired efforts at seduction may have failed that night, but at least he made fast friends with a talented North Fork winemaker in the bargain.
Talk about getting lucky.
Meryl Rosofsky was the research consultant for the Discovery Health documentary “Aphrodisiacs: Magic or Medicine?” and author of “Aphrodisiacs” for the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Scribner’s). She leads the culinary walking tour “On Aphrodite’s Trail” for the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.