“He'd noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination - but at the end of the day they'd settle quite happily for egg and chips. If it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato.” The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett.
That quote has only a tenuous link to this article, but I’m about to mention Fifty Shades of Grey, so I wanted to balance it out with an example of literary mastery.
Why am I mentioning Fifty Shades of Grey? Simple, I heartily disagree with descriptions of its sex scenes as ‘vanilla’.
Now far, far be it that I would offer a defence on a piece of fiction that has so little literary merit, given its poor characterisation, clunky dialogue and laughable plotting. I will plead guilty to drawing these conclusions based on excerpts, but let’s face it, in this case that’s enough to condemn a book by its cover.
The ‘erotic’ scenes are at best self-conscious and awkward-I’ve had text conversations that are better written and more exciting. The criticism itself is justified; it’s just the choice of language I object to, equating vanilla with all things boring, dull and pedestrian.
This is extremely unfair, as anyone who has ever enjoyed a real vanilla dessert will understand. Vanilla isn’t something that comes out of a small, plastic bottle, dripped into cake batter in a desultory and indifferent fashion. The real taste of vanilla is only going to come from a dark, knobbly pod steeped in warm, creamy milk.
There’s an art to cooking with vanilla, and like the best romantic adventures it takes time, care and imagination.
You have to run your fingers over the slim, long bean to get a sense of its thickness, then lay it flat and slit it open with a sharp knife. Inside are seeds so small they look like dark flecks; these are scrapped into warm milk and then the pods are immersed in the liquid.
Your senses will be filled with a sweet, aromatic and surprisingly warm scent. Made into a dessert it’s just as sensuous and just as explosive as the best chocolate. Yes it’s a completely different taste but the two complement each other so very well. Just imagine a silky crème anglaise sliding down and over a warm chocolate pudding, your spoon poised to scoop up a mouthful.
So my precious pod people, here’s to vanilla, defend it against those who sneer at its charms! Or better yet, leave them and their dulled taste buds to artificially sweetened ignorance and save this treat for yourself!
Sweet vanilla facts…
· Vanilla pods come from a climbing orchid native to Mexico
· Whole vanilla pods can be used up to four times each if used whole for infusion and then rinsed and dried.
· According to the BBC Good Taste website “length is an indication of quality, 15-20 cm is best."