Blandine Vié, Giles MacDonogh (tr.)
Balls in Cooking and Culture
PDF of preliminary pages, samples of the content and a list of recipes.
As a publication concerned with the more humorous (or repulsive) aspects of animal physiology Testicles has generated reactions in the blogosphere, Amazon reviews and Twitter that discuss both the gastronomic and anecdotal aspects of the book with intrigue and humour that fits the book’s unique subject matter.
Erien Haus (Amazon Review – Four Stars) gives a decent notice, though we would take issue with his typographical and design criticism (what, for instance is ‘awful’ about the typefaces Gill Sans and Garamond?) He describes it as
a most original compendium of culinary and cultural wisdom on an unmentionable area of offal cuisine. Goodness knows where the author found all the content but its a really good in-depth read, perhaps more suitable as a coffee-table curiosity or bedside companion than a real cookery book. (One has to wonder whether there’s a sequel in the planning… “Ovaries”!) What lets it down, bearing in mind the exotic subject, is the terribly dull cover design, the yellowed page paper and the awful type-face.
Another Amazon review from Eddyalpha describes the book as ‘A very good read, the translation from French to English, does have the odd typo, but nothing to worry about. I loved it!’ (five stars).
This book has also had some intelligent analysis on various blogs, the Foodologist being one of them (an interesting and well-informed Australian blogger), who cites the anecdotal facts which pepper the book,
The book is broken up into three sections. The first indulges the mythology surrounding of the use of this “ballsy” ingredient throughout history including anecdotes and tales of its cultural significance. For example, did you know that the Sporran is a little Scots purse designed to conceal what you are not supposed to see?’ He goes on to say, ‘This book is most entertaining and sheds an interesting light on a much-maligned food ingredient. At a time when so many people associate the term “gastronomic” with the finest of premium and luxury ingredients, this book serves to remind us all of the importance of all foods in furthering our gastronomic understanding and on the relevance of gastronomic writing. The book is written in a friendly “tongue-in-cheek” style that is sure to bring a smile to all but the most sour faced individuals.
Another notable blog that reviewed the book is Lovefood.com (edited by journalist and Food Britannia author Andrew Webb) which noted the historical relevance of testicles in cooking:
What the book shows, not pictorially thankfully, is that the consumption of animal’s testicles was once much more common in the past and indeed it has a long and rich history across many cultures. Being a French translation there’s a strong emphasis on French and European culinary uses of testicles. They were much consumed by French kings for their supposed aphrodisiacal qualities.
There was anticipation of the book’s arrival in a nice piece by the estimable Chris Hirst of the Independent, see it here.
Joanna Blythman. the Scottish foodwriter who keeps us on our toes in matters of proper supply chains, honesty in labelling and other political matters, gave us a boost with her comment:
Over the years I have accumulated a somewhat curious collection of eye-catching food titles published by this small independent publishing house in Devon. They include esoteric delights such as Rhubarbaria by Mary Prior, Jellies and Their Moulds by Peter Brears and Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson’s charming volume, Trifle.
Matthew Fort, erstwhile of the Guardian, was kind enough to give us a mention too, he writes:
Testicles – Balls in Cooking and Culture. There’s a title to grab the attention. 219 pages on balls by Blandine Vié, translated by Giles MacDonogh. A subject of specialised interest if ever there was one, testicles. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I dare say. Even by my standards, it’s a bit arcane. But that’s Prospect Books for you.
Another online review that cites the historical importance of balls in cooking is Kirkus Reviews review:
Certainly in the world of one-note food books–salt, cod, milk, eggs, etc.–there is room for this tribute to the testicle, for balls hardly figure at all in cookbooks, which has more to do with fancy than fact: Testicles were among the choicest morsels in the French courts of the 17th and 18th centuries; they were esteemed as hors d’oeuvres in the classic and bourgeois cooking of the 19th century; they were the offal of choice in the American cowboy community; perhaps most importantly, they were the offal of choice among butchers, who know the best and kept it to themselves. The purpose of the book, writes Vie, is to honor and rehabilitate the testicle, and she writes of it (or them) with wit. She proceeds through a short course of testicles in mythology, in the Bible and the Koran and as metaphors, then shifts into an annotated lexicon of the anatomical, culinary and fantastic terms to describe the edible little things. The degree of detail is mesmerizing, and Vie provides a rangy section on preparation: recipes in the Tunisian style and the Moroccan fashion, how to freeze testicles, how to cook them with citrus and much more. MacDonogh delivers a lively translation as well as added valuable marginalia. A delightful mix of good humor and scholarship.
We were gratified that the book was noticed by none other than the New York Times, which helped sales in America. They included it in their Tmagazine:
An award winner in France, the cookbook Testicles (Prospect Books, $40) sounds like a gag gift, but it’s a remarkably straight-faced effort – by a woman, Blandine Vié – that combines recipes (lamb fries tagine and bull’s testicles pâté), droll cultural notes and an etymology of scrotal slang.
The newly founded Radical Dining Society gave a welcome to Testicles with the following:
It was Francois Béroalde de Verville at the dawn of the seventeenth century, who came up with the lines ‘We have no greater regard for the poor than we do for our balls, we leave them outside, they are never allowed in.’
Meanwhile, our favourite book blog, because she is enthusiastic, is by Hayley Anderton She welcomed the book with:
On Mondays I generally finish at lunchtime which is nice, but this is after getting up at 6am to be at work in the first place which I don’t enjoy so much. It’s always a toss up between being a glass half empty, glass half full kind of a day. Today turned into a glass half full when I found this in the letterbox when I got home. It was utterly unexpected and even after a brief look it’s still something of an unknown quantity but it’s a long time since a book title has made me laugh like this (my mother was amused too, but the Scottish one was appalled). I don’t know quite when I’ll read this but I love Prospect books, a parcel from them has never failed to make my day and although I suspect this is a change of pace from the last book I got from them (the superlative ‘Cakes’ by Geraldine Holt) here is a picture of ‘Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture’ which I hope will raise both a smile and enough interest to encourage all and sundry to go and look at Prospect’s website.
Further comment on the book was made through Twitter. Author and graphic designer Jake Tilson (@JakeTilson) tweeted ‘Testicles, the cookbook, Prospect Books, brilliant’. Riverford Field Kitchen chef Jane Baxter (@baxcooka) tweeted ‘Along with Tom Jaine on his sell out book on testicles’. Clare Freeman; an assistant producer on Radio 4 (@asmallfurrybear) tweeted ‘The book “Testicles: Balls in cooking and Culture” by Blandine Vie is causing much sniggering today, mainly from the women in the office…’. But perhaps the finest tweet comes from Kevin Maguire the associate editor of the Daily Mirror: ‘Testicles: Balls in cooking and culture is a real book. Daily Mail’s Tim Shipman has just presented it to Ed Balls. Really’. We can only hope that this is true.
For twittering, see: @prospectbooks.
Further coverage of the book came from the Financial Times in Tim Hayward’s selected food books of 2011:
Truly devoted food geeks regularly thank God that Prospect Books still survives to service their needs. A wonderful compilation of recipes, aperçus, historical fact and literary fancy on a single fascinating theme.
The Telegraph’s Rose Prince also chose the book in her summary of the year’s cookbooks,
the year’s most devotional book of offal can only be Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture, a translation by Giles MacDonogh of the 2005 work by French writer Blandine Vié (£20, Prospect Books). Vie, in case you’re wondering, is a woman. She has formerly written recipes for seduction, and the “cookery of love”. We do not know why she has turned to balls for a subject, but she has made an amusingly gripping study, that should appeal to both men and women’s humour. Vie is (fairly) persuasive of the place that “frivolities” have on the table: “We have not greater regard for the poor than we do for our balls, we leave them outside, they are never allowed in,” she quotes from a 16th-century writer. It emerges you can have your balls many ways: sautéed, en blanquette, skewered. Enough.
Sophia Waugh was kind enough to give the book a shout in her cookery round-up in the Literary Review. She remarked:
Another new book about an ingredient is Testicles, Balls in Cooking and Culture by Blandine Vié and translated from the French by food and wine writer Giles MacDonogh. Again, it does not limit itself to cooking tips, although they are included. Testicles is wonderful in its scope, looking at balls in mythology, in language and in superstition. A man wishing to improve his virility would eat an animal’s testicles and small boys in the south-west of France would be given a castrated boar’s testicles on bread as a rite of passage. The fact that the animal was still alive while its balls were being eaten added a whole extra layer to the effect of the feast. Probably too much for anyone but the most confirmed Nose to Tail Henderson fan are the recipes for testicles. As ‘any fule no’ (apparently) ginger and nutmeg are the spices which go best with cock’s stones, but the great Carême recommends making a ragout of them with peas and asparagus tips. French boar hunters fry the testicles with salt and pepper for a mid-morning snack, and the Moroccans have all sorts of delicious-sounding ways with lambs’ balls. The only area where this book falls down is sometimes, despite MacDonogh’s excellent translation and notes, in the linguistic parts, as of course a discussion of words – especially puns – is bound occasionally to falter in translation.
The book has also been shortlisted for the Gourmand Magazine’s award for best translation and is also a tip for the Bookseller’s prize for the most outlandish/silliest book title of the year.