Saturday, February 11, 2006

the flavored world

Proust may have had his dry, crumbly, literary madeleine (a disappointment to me when I finally tasted one); I have been thinking of my own list of tastes and moments.
It is an odd thing to list, since I am far from being a great cook, and have been mostly disconnected from such physical things as food for much of my life. Well, yes, I ate; I did not live on air; but I was prone to forgetting to eat, and during my youth frequently saved money by skipping meals. Of course, I then bought books with the money I'd saved--a more lasting treat by far.

But the first tastes, the strange tastes, the interesting moments--these have stayed with me.
And sometimes, with a rush of nostalgia, I recall them.

There were the slabs of black bread spread with sweet butter, and the new pulled spring onions, and the bowls of raspberries and clotted cream my grandfather served me, with delight that I would ask for second helpings and finish every bit of these treats. "She needs real food" he'd shout, hearty and proud. He was a big man, from Finland, who worked as a ship builder and carpenter and kept a tidy garden for vegetables and fruit and raised rabbits and turkeys as well. He held little store by the canned vegetables and puffy packaged bread that were the usual table fare at my house. I believe it was in his house I realized that food could taste wonderful. When I read Heidi I always thought of my grandfather, and figured he would have fed me melted cheese too, and had me play with goats on a mountainside, had there been goats or mountainsides around.

Gingerbread. Not just any gingerbread (though I like gingerbread of all sorts) but the chewy, pale gingerbread of Grasmere or thereabouts, bought and eaten on a walking tour of the Lake District many years ago. My love of the time and I were seeking out Wordsworth country, and clambering hillsides, and staring at daffodils, and getting rained on. There was good cheese there as well, crumbly and sharp and white, pressed on me by a bed and breakfast proprietor who was concerned that my vegetarian diet wouldn't keep me strong enough for those rambles.

And the lovely dinners in Sagres, Portugal, with baskets of strange fruit and little fishes (this was before I was a vegetarian, so I was guiltily gorging on goat meat as well, roasted with rosemary). The fruits were what captivated me, however. I'd ask their names in all the languages I know, and still do not know what they were. Perhaps guavas, or loquats. I'd come to Sagres, which is at the far southwest tip of Portugal, after several months travel and a surfeit of museums. The travel agent in Florence was very helpful as I said "I need to spend a month somewhere cheap, hopefully near the ocean, with no particularly touristy attractions". He said "I know exactly where you need to be" and booked a flight to Lisbon, with train connections all the way to Sagres. Since then I have heard the area has blossomed (or been blighted) with tourists--then only a few travellers knew of it.

And preserved quinces, which figure in two incarnations: as a sweet in Mexico, where I was helping build a school for deaf children (and cooking for two hundred over open campfires, another story). One of the fathers brought a great slab of quince paste as a treat for us, and doled it out in sweet, grainy slabs. And then in England, where I sat with an older poet and chatted about poetry and life and birds as she spread rose colored jam with amber bits over my crumpets. Quince preserves, she said. Enchanting, I said.

And in my childhood in Japan, chestnuts broken from their spiny cases and roasted over a candle flame, and dipped in maple syrup. A treat that was especially delightful, for being absolutely forbidden--the smuggled matches, the secret fort. My friend and I set my younger brother as guard, to watch for grown ups, and paid him in a chestnut or two, dripping with syrup.

And going back, further yet, sugar roses from a birthday cake, smuggled into bed, licked in the darkness, cherished. I was, perhaps, 2 or 3 years old.

Oh, and apricots, which fell from my grandmother's tree, which made a cool green tent. I could sit there for hours, sucking out the amber, dripping pulp. No fruit since has tasted quite so intensely golden.

I might trade a lot for just one, here in late winter.


At February 12, 2006 10:09 AM , Blogger marlyat2 said...

You ought to have a little signpost to this one... people who like your "other" blog would like this post. Very lovely and enticing, this food.

At February 12, 2006 2:58 PM , Blogger Em said...

Hey der

Thanks for the visit to my blog...

I would like to link you so dis blog ya?...Nice postin and its abt foood yumss

I had a cravin for Bostom Creme Donuts abt a week ...Was quick a difficult cravin as I had such a donut before..

Anyways,I finalli wore the fake eyelashes and dey didnt fall off..cos of the glue.. I even posted pics....

At February 13, 2006 12:33 AM , Blogger jarvenpa said...

I'll have to go check your pictures, Em. You are probably better at all the makeup and fashion stuff than I am or ever was. Yes, of course, link to my blog.
And Marly, thank you, yes I made a sort of signpost for the cyber travelers.

At February 13, 2006 11:44 AM , Blogger Dr O2 said...

hey Jarvenpa. This is just to let you know I have found my way here :-) will be a regular after the hard 10 days ahead :-) have fun & take care.

At February 13, 2006 3:22 PM , Blogger jarvenpa said...

good navigating, doctor! and good luck in your next 10 days.


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