Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tantalizing Tastes and the Places They Take Us

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tantalizing Tastes and the Places They Take Us

Article excerpt

It was before dark, just after the sun had gone down. The October cold was already closing in for the night - perfect for my purpose. It would chill the apples on the trees but not freeze them. I walked into a field near my home, toward a secluded tree I knew well, one laden with apples I had left untouched until everything was just right.

I picked one and gravely sank my teeth into it, with all the ceremony due an act so long awaited. It had an indescribable tang, a piquant assault on the palate that I later learned would ring down the decades of my taste memory.

Writers claim the sense of smell is underrated as an evocative agent. They say one whiff of a long-forgotten odor can suddenly flood the memory with old associations. So can tastes. Like those apples in the twilight long ago, certain flavors can link then and now, unifying your life experience in a way the logical mind may have trouble doing. I'm not talking about a gourmet's journal of culinary high points, but a sensory guide to the past marked by sometimes crude and unremarkable bits of food that point beyond themselves. The tangy apple tasted great and also mirrored adolescent zest and the sometimes stinging arrival of new ideas and new realities. I used to make equal ceremony of eating tomatoes in the family garden. That too had to be done in solitude, but this time in summer heat, after waiting weeks for a certain vine to bring a certain ideally shaped tomato to fruition. The tomato's taste was as meaningful as the apple's, but totally different. It was warm and full of allusions, a metaphor for musings about the unknown future. A home garden is the only setting where tomatoes can deliver such Proustian flashbacks. You can hardly taste the tomatoes offered in most supermarkets. They are stand-ins for the real thing. People eat them out of habit, a conditioned reflex from a time when the fruits were exquisitely rich and squirted juice on your shirt. In an age when form sometimes suffices in place of substance, you begin to believe you don't need the real thing. That's why a quick taste can often make memories leap up. You're remembering something real. …

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