Virile Chickpeas | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Virile Chickpeas

Boiled gall bladders from cattle were eaten to sooth sciatica pain, and live snails were used to heal a burn.

In the medieval period, people sought out magical cures and outlandish remedies for everything from colicky babies to protection against witches. Young women would eat strange foods to induce dreams of future husbands, and love spells were very profitable for midwives and healers. Doctors prescribed specific foods for certain ailments like boiled gall bladders from cattle to soothe sciatica pain, and live snails to heal burns. Some of the remedies that we found most interesting were foods used to increase libido and virility. Doctors advised that those looking to improve their sex lives should consume a combination of foods that were “warm and moist,” nourishing and that, well, increased flatulence. One food that met all three requirements was chickpeas. However, goat meat, sparrow brains and wine were also thought to have the same effect. Just like love spells, aphrodisiacs were big business. Although we have no proof, one could guess that Henry VIII had a frequent-buyer card. But sparrow brains? Let’s just stick with chickpeas and wine, thanks. 


  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest and juice of one lemon (¼ cup)
  • 2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. of pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped


Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary to the hot pan until fragrant, and then add the lemon zest (it smells sooo good). Stir, then add the chickpeas to the mixture. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, spinach, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid is gone. Remove from heat, dish onto a serving plate, and finish with the parsley and cheddar.

Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves, authors of A Thyme and Place: Medieval Feasts and Recipes for the Modern Table. Their new cookbook, due out in the spring 2017, will focus on colonial-era European-American cuisine.

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