This article was originally published in INews, which you can read here https://inews.co.uk/essentials/long-surprising-history-women-using-genitals-cooking/
There’s no denying it, food and sex are two pleasures intimately connected in the human psyche. Admittedly, literally mixing the two (or ‘sploshing’ to use the vernacular) can lead to a steep dry cleaning bill and a life time ban from the Tesco deli stand, but the point remains; food is sexy. Countless eating metaphors can be employed to describe sex and I have certainly been known to call a sausage roll ‘orgasmic’. Every Valentine’s Day, lovers gift each other chocolates, champagne and oysters and Nigella Lawson made her name fellating buttered parsnips.
An ancient proverb tells us that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ (though, Jo Brand swore it was actually through his hanky pocket with a breadknife.) Today, we might take that to mean a decent bit of dinner is all that’s needed to secure the affections of your intended, but in times gone by feeding your crush handmade morsels held magic properties. I say handmade, but hands actually had very little to do with it. There exists a little known but ancient practice of women serving food to their paramours prepared, not by hand, but by vulva. That’s right, ladies – just when you thought your genitals could not be any more amazing, it turns out they can be used to bake sex bread. Let me explain.
Throughout the middle ages, various church authorities were thoughtful enough to print books for priests listing the appropriate penance for various sins that parishioners would confess to; these books are known as ‘penitentials’. The earliest date to Ireland in the sixth century and they are a goldmine for anyone studying medieval sexuality, as the monks were nothing if not thorough (or imaginative) when it came to indexing sin. One of the best known penitential is Decretum by Burchard of Worms, (c. 950 –1025), the bishop of the German City of Worms. Here, the good bishop lists several penances for preparing food with your foof (notepads at the ready.)
“Have you done what some women are wont to do? They take a live fish and put it in their vagina, keeping it there for a while until it is dead. Then they cook or roast it and give it to their husbands to eat, doing this in order to make men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.” (Decretum)
Before you kick off your knickers and head to the nearest coy pond, let’s take a moment to think of the science at work here. To the medieval mind this made perfect sense. Touch and transference were very important to both medieval medicine and superstition. They didn’t know about germs, so they believed that contamination through contact was possible for all kinds of things; good and bad. The vulva was associated with lust, so it stood to reason that being spiked with a fish marinated in a vagina would inflame a man’s senses.
Women cooking with their little chefs was clearly something of an area of concern for Burchard of Worms as he goes on to list a number of other sinful serving suggestions.
“Have you done what some women are accustomed to do? They lie face down on the ground, uncover their buttocks, and tell someone to make bread on their naked buttocks. When they have cooked it, they give it to their husbands to eat. They do this to make them more ardent in their love for them.” (Decretum)
You might be forgiven for thinking that all this is the product of one man’s overactive imagination and soak in the communion wine, but you’d be wrong. Kneading bread with the vulva is recorded again almost six hundred later, only by this time it’s called ‘Cocklebread’ (and has a song and a dance to go with it.)
George Peele’s 1595 play The Old Wives’ Tale contains these lines:
"Fair maiden, white and red.
Stroke me smooth, and comb my head.
And thou shalt have some cockell-bread."
But, it is the author, John Aubrey (1626-97) who gives the most detailed account of kneading the dough. Aubrey writes of young women and their ‘wanton sport’, the ‘moulding of Cocklebread’. Aubrey details how ‘young wenches’ would ‘get upon a Tableboard, and as they gather-up their knees and their Coates with their hands as high as they can, and then they wabble to and fro with the Buttocks as if they were kneading the Dough with their Arses’. Whilst doing their wabbling, the women would sing,
‘My dame is sick, and gone to bed.
And I’ll go mould my cocklebread!
Up with my heels and down with my head,
And this is the way to mould cockle-bread.’
Once baked, the bread would be delivered to that special someone and left to work its magic. Aubrey goes on to suggest that ‘cockle’ derives from an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘arse’, which is supported by the 16th century term ‘hot cockles’ – meaning to have sex. Think about that the next time you’re ‘warming the cockles of your heart’. Cocklebread turns up again in Victorian texts, only by then it’s a children’s game, divorced from all naughtiness (and bread), where you squat on your haunches and rock to and fro singing a song about your granny. If only they’d known!
Vulva cooking techniques have witnessed a noticeable decline in modern times, though if you ask me a revival is due. Perhaps Paul Hollywood will talk us through cocklebread this year as the Great British Bake Off gets sexed up on Channel Four, but I doubt it. I imagine health and safety would frown on genitalia moulded confectionary and would mandate some kind of hair net be used. It does seem safer to stick to a box of milk tray. Although, should a lover approach you carrying an oddly squashed loaf of mighty white, don’t say I didn’t warn you.