“Shaken not stirred”. How many people have heard these three immortal words from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and how many different emotions have they aroused. They speak of adventure, danger, sex, snobbery, desire, pleasure, daring, free rein, humour and elitism, just to name a few.
And when it comes to iconic literary food moments, they may well top the lot in terms of sheer international recognition.
Yet it is only one of the many generously scattered food references through Fleming’s Bond novels, a fact that has caused many reviewers to cast Commander Bond as the foodie prototype.
In Casino Royale, he tells Vesper Lynd (over a decadent meal of caviar, beef tournedos and champagne): “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink.”
We are told he loves seasonal produce, Dom Perignon, caviar, smoked salmon and avocado pear – all of which in a shattered Post World War II Britain were costly.
And of course, Bond’s lust for food is only matched by his love of sex, fast cars and danger; and when all four are combined, the better.
In Diamond’s Are Forever, Bond confides to his latest fascination, gem smuggler Tiffany Case, that his ideal woman is one that can “make Sauce Bearnaise as well as love”.
Bond’s love for food is part of his lust for life with all its risks and rewards, and the ever-present shadow of death stalking Bond accentuates the exquisiteness of this most basic of human acts.
It also reflects Fleming’s understanding of human desire – the desire for more and, often, more than we are brave enough to take for ourselves.
Bond lived a life of utter extravagance in an era of scarcity.
Britain was recovering from World War II until well into the 70s; and the 50s, when the Fleming novels were first published, were the hardest years.
I recall my mother’s ignominy at a party in Britain in the 1960s, when she ate half a plate of grapes until someone quietly tapped her on the shoulder and informed her that grapes were very expensive and one should only partake of one or two at most.
In Australia, a host would be grateful to any guest who would clean up a half a plate of grapes and save them from the post-party garbage can.
And of course, the food that Bond ate was not only good, but terribly expensive. Today, avocados are a dime a dozen, but prior to the 80s they were considered a delicacy because they were so difficult to grow.
Similar to the way millions of readers salivated over Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, Fleming’s readers got to salivate over food and British prose, and lust over fast cars and beautiful women. Living vicariously through the dashing spy James Bond eased the harshness of the time, allowing them to savour in their imaginations the exquisite joy of fulfilment.
Shaken not stirred … so much meaning in three little words.
Indeed, as a writer is to words, Fleming was the restrained equivalent of a modern day Jamie Oliver packing flavour into a chook.
For this episode, given a vodka martini isn’t much of a recipe, we are taking a stroll down retro lane and providing a recipe for Bearnaise sauce from Epicurious. It goes so well with everything, particularly beef.
And ladies, if we manage to tuck this little number under our belt, we can all be Bond’s ideal lover!!
And just before I receive howls of protest at the objectification of women, just a quick reminder that this show is a celebration of womanhood, female strength and Christine Wells’ novel The Juliet Code, which celebrates female spies.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any iconic food quotes from female spies (and who could resist James Bond), but we did find this quote from British actress Helen Mirren, which is the perfect accompaniment to this episode:
The role of women has always been undervalued in the spy world, always undermined in terms of recognition. Unfairly so. It’s a world that needs women.
Place 1 tbsp butter in small saucepan over medium heat.
Add shallots and a pinch of salt and peppercorns; stir to coat.
Stir in vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vinegar is evaporated, 3-4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low and continue cooking shallots, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer shallot reduction to a small bowl and let cool completely.
Warm a blender with hot water.
Melt butter until foamy .
Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in warm, dry blender. Purée mixture until smooth. Remove lid insert.
With blender running, slowly pour in hot butter in a thin stream of droplets (no more than one tablespoon at a time), discarding milk solids at bottom of measuring cup.
Continue blending until a smooth, creamy sauce forms, 2-3 minutes.
Pour sauce into a medium bowl. Stir in shallot reduction and tarragon and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.
Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.