“One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Your mouth and throat are home to around 10,000 taste buds. And every one of them first sends their sensations through your olfactory nerves before they reach your brain. Your brain can “taste” very little without the partnership of smell.
Because taste relies so heavily on smell, one might argue that taste is one of our “weakest” senses. And that’s precisely why it varies more from person to person than any other sense. We all look at the sky and agree that it’s blue. We can all touch sandpaper and agree that it’s rough. And we pretty much all agree that birds chirping sound more pleasant than nails on a chalkboard. But ask a random sampling of people how sushi, or eggplant, or liver tastes, and you’re bound to get wildly divergent answers, from “mmmmm” to “ewwwww.”
Because taste is our “weakest,” or most codependent sense, it’s also the most influenced by personal experience. Many of us have heard that our sense of smell is the most powerful trigger of memory. But our memories are the most powerful determinant of taste.
Josh has frequently mentioned his love of grapefruit. He’ll choose a grapefruit over an orange, or strawberry, or any other fruit, anytime. His love probably has quite a bit to do with his memory of his grandparents. When they went on their “exotic” Florida vacation each winter, they would always send a case of oranges to Josh and his brother in cold, snowy Wisconsin. But one year the citrus orchard made a mistake and sent juicy, perfectly ripe, white grapefruit instead. He couldn’t eat enough of them. So while most people merely tolerate the occasional grapefruit, these puckery sour fruits became one of Josh’s favorite foods.
Young children who are fed a varied diet are statistically more likely to enjoy a varied diet in their adult years. This has nothing to do with science; they merely associate a wider variety of flavors with feelings of nurturing. It’s also why we tend to like foods from our home country better, on the whole, than ethnic dishes. (However, one great foreign vacation can establish new favorites.)
And why do more people like cake than pie? Well, which brought on the more heightened joyful excitement as a child: your birthday parties or Thanksgiving?
Taste’s close association with memory has its downsides, too. Did you ever go overboard with Margaritas and bid sayonara to tequila forever? Did you grow up without much money, eating enough kidney beans to last a lifetime? Or maybe you ate too much birthday cake one year and are now more of a pie person.
We try to include recipes in the Almanac and our cookbooks that are more than just interesting combinations of ingredients that make pretty photos. We always think first about how Beekman neighbors could include these dishes in their lives.
Because if one of our recipes becomes part of your favorite memory this summer, well, that leaves us with a very good taste in our mouths too.
As featured in the Summer 2018 Special Edition of Beekman 1802 Almanac.