Valentines day meal – Three Courses for Three Saints

Two Gouldian Finches

Two Gouldian Finches

There was not one but three Saint Valentines; a priest from Rome, a Bishop from Interamna (now known as Terni, Itali) and a third who lived in the Roman provence of Africa, now Tunisia and part of Libya. The BBC website reveals that Bishop Valentine was incarcerated by Emperor Claudius in 270 AD. His crime was conducting ‘illegitimate wedding ceremonies in the capital’ at a time when mariage between young citizens was illegal because it was thought detrimental to young soldiers. Before he was executed he fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and on the eve of his beheading he sent her a note; ‘from your Valentine’.

Since the ancient Greeks it has been believed that certain foods improve sexual performance. They are named aphrodisiacs after Aphrodite, the Goddess of sexuality and love.  Garlic, mushrooms and wine infused with cheese and onions were thought to increase the blood flow to the nether regions and reduce inhibitions. Thankfully in today’s society cheese and onion have been relegated to the realm of Walkers, to be replaced by asparagus, figs, honey and chocolate. I wonder what our three saints would say about the blatant sexual discourse evoked by these foods; it doesn’t seem very Catholic thats for sure!

Its funny how three martyred saints could inspire such materialism in today’s society. The fourteenth of February sees the shops filling up with an abundance of teddy bears, cherubs and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. We have lost sight of the reason Valentine’s day is celebrated on the fourteenth of February. In Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules he states that half-way through the second month the birds ‘pair off and usually forsake all others’.

Its easy for the commercialism of Valentine’s day to put you off entirely, but for me its about ignoring this and taking the opportunity to share a meal with someone special. My first thought was to make a stew of little birds, then I decided it was a bit morbid, so we are going to make three courses, one for each saint; an artichoke starter from Rome, a Tunisian Fish Stew for the main course and Panpepato from Terni for dessert.

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