Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture

by Doc-G on November 16, 2011

Testicles Balls in Cooking and Culture

I was ecstatic to recently receive an email from one of my Gastronomy tutors to see if I was interested in reviewing a book which they thought would suit my blog. After agreeing wholeheartedly, I received in the post a copy of the book ‘Testicles: Balls in Cooking and Culture’ much to my delight from Tom Jaine at Prospect Books in the UK. Whilst one could comfortably house such a tome in the ‘offal’ section of any complete cook book collection, it is much more than just a cook 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

They say there is nothing worn under a Scotsman’s kilt, but it appears that the sporran, a leather purse attached by little chains that they wear on top of the aforesaid kilt, was specially designed to be positioned at the height of the ‘male bounty‘ in order to hide it. In reality, as the organs swing free you can guess what they look like through the cloth, which renders otiose this prudent and prudish precaution. The sporran is therefore like a pair of pants worn on the outside.

(p. 22)

It then goes into the methods beginning with a ‘lexicon of anatomical, culinary and fantastic terms to describe edible testicles’. For example, Lambs Frie’s (sheep testicles) ‘were also referred to as the queen’s frivolities, in memory of the dish with which – it seems- Lois XV treated Madame de Pompadour in order to stimulate her amorous appetites’ (p 63). Then there is a further vocabulary related to their use in culinary terms, some descriptions of the techniques used for ‘isolating’ this ingredient followed by a brief description of the most common types of testicles used in cooking.

The book finishes with what could only be described as a thorough collection of recipes dedicated to these ‘offal’ delicacies. Some examples include ‘Frivolities in tomato sauce’ (p 99), ‘Bollocks in the nest’ (p 95) and a recipe from none other than Auguste Escoffier of Cock’s combs and Cock’s stones a la greque (p 126).

My own experience with this food stuff is limited to a brief experience at turkish restaurant in Haringay, London where once it was mentioned that I was soon to be married, I was quite strongly offered by the owner a small plate of what I believed to be either goat or sheep testicles, straight off the hot BBQ which were lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and served with a wedge of lemon as a starter. I wasn’t sure if it was a dare or a joke but all eyes were on me as the plate was served up. I was under the distinct impression that it was believed that the dish would ‘give me strength’ for my wedding night (if you know what I mean!!). I had seen on more than one occasion people eating this at the same restaurant, usually older Turkish men who seemed to be quite fond of the dish. With trepidation, I squeezed some lemon on to the little morsels and tentatively tried. They were soft and tasty, without any typical ‘offal’ tastes that one might associate with liver, spleen or kidney but more akin to sweetbread. As sense of relief came from the owner and chefs at the restaurant and a round of small strong drinks were then brought to our table. The night continued into a blur but the experience will stay with me.

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.

The following contains information from the publishes, Prospect Books:

About the Book

This book was first published in France in 2005 and has been magnificently translated into English by the food writer and historian Giles MacDonogh. It is part cookery book, part dictionary, and part cultural study of testicles: human and animal. Their culinary use is the bedrock, although it would be impossible to ignore the wider implications of these anatomical jewels. Blandine Vie has a delicious way with words, and a delight in exploring the furthest corners of our vocabulary, both scurrilous and euphemistic.

The book opens with a discussion of balls, of pairs, of virility and the general significance thereof; it then delves more deeply into the culinary use of testicles, in history and across cultures; there follows a recipe section that ranges the continents in search of good dishes, from lamb’s fry with mushrooms, to balls with citrus fruit, to the criadillas beloved of bullfighters, and Potatoes Leontine, stuffed with cocks’ stones. To close, there is an extensive glossary, drawing on many languages, that illustrates the linguistic richness that attaches to this part of the body. It is in this section particularly that the ingenuity and intelligence of the translator is on display as he converts the French original into something entirely accessible to the English reader.

About the Author
Blandine Vie is the author of many cookery books in France. Giles MacDonogh has written extensively on the history of food (especially his biographies of Grimod de la Reyniere and Brillat-Savarin) as well as on the history of Germany.

In Australia, the book is available from:

Books for Cooks
233-235 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 8415 1415

Alternatively, buy the book from Amazon here:

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