FIRST CATCH YOUR PANDA

Just when we have launched our New Year diets, Dedalus Press springs on us The Decadent Cookbook (pounds 8.99). The putative authors are Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray, a bit of a tip-off: the medlar is a small, brown fruit, eaten when decayed; the durian fruit tastes good but smells like sewage. These two coves left editors Alex Martin and Jerome Fletcher ("lean, dark, flitting figures who look as if they could do with a good lunch") to tidy up this compendium of hideous repasts, taboo-busting banquets, and surprisingly sensible fare, accompanied by passages from decadent literature: menus courtesy of the Marquis de Sade, J K Huysmans, King George IV, the Grand Inquisitor and other gluttons.

We begin with "Dinner with Caligula": "Roman banquets are fun to do, but however hard you try the food is unlikely to be completely authentic ... Hire plenty of slaves..." Among the suggestions are lumbuli (small roast testicles), glires (roast dormice), sic farcies eam sepiam coctam (squid stuffed with brains) and porcellum hortulanum (sucking pig with vegetables and garden pests). The Renaissance Popes were entertainers on the grand scale, too, each course decorated with statues ("Diana, the moon, with bows and arrows ... Europa on a bull with her hands on the horns") made of butter, almond paste and sugar. A tasty sausage section includes blue sausage, from Switzerland, where all horsemeat products must be dyed thus. Angels on horseback, devilled peppers and Flaming Monk are elucidated. Some problems, alas, are insoluble: there is a recipe for Panda Paw Casserole, but "what one does with the rest of the bear is beyond the scope of this particular book." The elegant cover (left) shows Diane de Poitiers as Sabina, wife of Nero, with plums.

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