What makes food good? Scratch that. What makes food good to each of us? Is it chemistry, mouth feel, or appearance? And why do I love my grandmother's chilled blueberry pie even though she makes it with canned blueberry sauce and frozen pie
crust? I hate canned blueberry sauce and frozen pie crust. But, ever since I was a tiny tike, I could not wait to devour a piece of that gooey stuff. It wasn't till I brought a friend from pastry school home to my grandmother's house that I even gave that
pie or its ingredients a second thought. My kind friend tasted Mamaw’s frozen pie crust mounded with mushy blueberries like the trained pastry critic we both were, not like the granddaughter I was. I was mortified, but I shouldn't have been. A lesson was learned.
All of that knowledge was thrown out the window in lieu of sentiment.
I know how to taste food, and I know how to enjoy food. I can go into a French bakery and taste the quality of the butter in the pastry or evaluate the consistency in the cream. I can tell you the difference between a winter wheat
and a spring wheat. A friend pointed out to me the other day that I often sigh when I am eating something I find very good. Now, that is
enjoying food and is my experience with Mamaw’s blueberry pie, which I am obviously not
tasting. Taste is a matter of training or deep experience; it can be turned off.
“Taste can be turned off? Surely not,” you may scoff. Well then, smarty pants, how do you, a registered,
cultured member of this great Allrecipes society, ever bear to eat fast food? Don’t tell me that you have never, ever made a conscious decision to purchase mass-produced, heated, previously-frozen fare consisting of a strange and un-human mixture
of soybeans and mystery meat laden with ajinomoto….. and liked it. Yes, friend, you have; more so, it was probably devoured, and not slowly savored like a silky tiramisu.
The hubby and I just traveled back home to Alabama and we ate at the local town grill with about twenty of my kin. I ordered a seafood plate, forgetting that everything in the South was fried unless otherwise requested. The oysters came out the color of
tar. Since we were starving guests and not paying, my husband and I tranquilly ate our food and turned out attention to the conversation. My aunt took a bite off of my plate and was amazed that two trained chefs were eating cold fried food that had been killed
twice. “How can you stand this?” she asked. “Well, I can’t really say. I’m not
tasting the stuff. I turn it off.” “Turn it off? You can do that?” Apparently you can.
Time for another anecdote to prove my point. I grew up on browned “cat’s-eye” biscuits. They looked nothing like the biscuits on TV commercials or in mainstream restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Red Lobster. When I first married my husband I used to
brag about learning to make biscuits when I was eight years old, and then one morning I proudly served him some. Much to my horror, he wouldn’t even finish a whole one. “These are not biscuits, honey! I like
real biscuits.” Cheeky, but honest. Why do I find this hardtack so delightful yet find soft, buttery biscuits too “doughy”? Why do I refuse pie with frozen dough and canned filling at a church potluck, but devour my grandmother’s with ecstasy?
I think that for the most part we are all “food smart“, with a certain basic taste intelligence. I also think that where sentiment is involved, our brains and palates shut down. Even my darling, dearest husband has his sentimental downfalls. He deems fermented
black beans, raw onions, and a fried egg over rice an honest feast. He eats at Hardy‘s, yet he is a highly trained executive chef.
Is there a food that you love that you probably shouldn’t? Is this a thought you’ve had before? Am I alone here? Anyways, my Mom’s biscuits are better than your mom’s….. na nana nana na na!