St Valentine’s Day

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By Mary McConville

On the 14th of February lovers will get together to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. Why not? After all, it’s love that makes the world go round.

There’s not a lot of evidence that he ever really existed but it makes a good story and a good excuse to get romantic, so we stay with the story.

One tale claims that St Valentine was imprisoned for performing marriages for soldiers who had been forbidden to marry and for ministering to the early Christians.  While he was imprisoned he healed his jailer’s daughter and just before his execution he wrote her a letter, “from your Valentine”.

Not much more was heard about St Valentine until the High Middle Ages when he was associated with romance and courtly love by Geoffrey Chaucer who claimed that the birds chose their mates on St Valentine’s Day. However this is not in tune with the seasons of Chaucer’s England.

The earliest mention of St Valentine’s Day being celebrated on the 14th of February was in ‘The Charter of the Court of Love’ probably put out by Charles V1 of France as part of the celebrations surrounding his upcoming marriage.

In the 18th century the current practice began of lovers giving sweets, flowers and cards to each other. In Europe St Valentine’s keys were given to lovers as “an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.” Curiously, these keys were also given to children to ward off St Valentine’s Malady (epilepsy). Unfortunately, it was only a charm and not a cure. In Slovenia St Valentine was considered the patron saint of bee-keepers. It might be a nice gesture to give something sweet to your honey.

A sideline to the usual celebrations was the giving of sailors’ valentines. This was a piece of craft work made up of large numbers of small seashells. They are still available in the kitsch sections of op shops and craft stores, but not under that name.

Romance borrows symbols from all over the world. Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love gives us her attendant doves. Herbalists and gardeners give us roses. All sorts of foods are considered romantic – sweet fruit, phallic vegetables, rare meat. Usually it is any food that is tasty, nourishing and not too heavy. If it’s rare, pricey and high status food that is likely to impress, it’ll do.

There is a lot of literature discussing the possibilities of love potions. In fact there are very few things that will make a real difference but if you put together a tasty meal and serve it with love to someone who is already in the mood, well, something will probably work = the mood, the music, the food – the wishful thinking.

A suggested meal suitable for St Valentine’s Day might be –

1st course – oysters and caviar

2nd course – doves in casserole, served with rice and mushrooms

3rd course – soft, silky, lightly alcoholic zabaglione

Do not take the advice of M.F.K. Fisher who famously wrote an article on how to un-seduce a man. She recommended serving up a meal that was delicious but rich and heavy accompanied by strong, complex wines and liqueurs.

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