Michele Roberts cooks up some really sexy tripe

From gastroporn to wedding-night recipes, food and sex are intimately linked

Gastroporn means TV chefs' gorgeous, pouting recipes. We gaze, salivate, but don't cook. Why mock this practice? Only the sternest of pundits rigidly separates fantasies of food from those of sex. Sensual lovers of metaphor know that, just as food can stand for sex, can console for the absence of sexual pleasure, so sex connects to hungering and the delights of being fed. We are all big babies, yearning back for the breast, only we are not supposed to admit it. Where looking at porn is usually a solitary activity, its fans often ticked off for not preferring a real, flesh-and-blood partner, reading gastroprose pushes one towards conviviality. Good gastroprose read in bed can stimulate the amateur cook to lie back and make love or to jump up and make a lovely dish. The only problem is deciding which to do first.

Some cookery books explicitly address food as an aphrodisiac. Others suggest menus for weddings. Gastronomie bretonne d'hier et d'aujourd'hui by Simone Morand (Flammarion, 1965) gives a recipe from Scrignac for wedding tripe. Farming families used to live all year round on boiled buckwheat or barley, sometimes cooled, cut into slabs and fried (rather as Italians do with slices of polenta). Once a year they would kill one or two of their cattle, hang the joints of meat from the rafters and create delicacies with the innards. The andouillettes made from the intestine would be hung in the chimney to smoke, and you had to give them a good brush before boiling them, as they became soot-blackened. The tripe was prepared in a variety of ways, a la mode de Nantes, de Rennes, de Saint-Malo, de Vannes, de Gourin.

Next time you are cooking for a wedding, however, try tripes des noces. To make 40 kilos' worth, or enough to feed 150 wedding guests, you finely chop the tripe from two animals, plus three kilos of carrots and three kilos of shallots. Into one kilo of butter you put the vegetables, saute them, and then add the tripe. You moisten this with 15 litres of meat stock and a half-bottle of good cognac, then throw in salt and pepper and a bouquet garni (one imagines this to be as big as the one that the bride carries). Simmer for five hours.

The newly-weds were feted (or teased) by being given la soupe au lait des maries. The guests came in procession, men at the front, bearing a cauldron containing milk in which floated bits of bread tied together with threads. The bride and groom had to eat this, in great good humour, with pierced spoons, while the "troupe joyeuse" sang them the bawdy "Milk Soup Song". Sometimes the soup was served in a chamberpot whose bottom was decorated with an eye and the legend: "I see you, little rascal." Enough to drive a nervous husband to porn.