Trying new foods? Forget that! How about trying some old foods again, for the first time?
Being the 12th and last of a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas.
In late November, just home from a too-brief sojourn in the southern US of A, we decided to celebrate American Thanksgiving this year. Our last turkey, after all, had been almost six weeks previously: a time span representing the ‘sweet spot’ where how-good-it-tasted memory drowns out how-much-work-it-was memory. Intending to cook only a turkey breast, I discovered, not surprisingly, that Canadian grocery stores are not well stocked for cooking a turkey dinner at the end of November. Turkey-piece selection being low to non-existent at my closest store, I ignored my better judgement and bought a whole, albeit tiny, Dread Turkey. Oh well, I thought, I need the practice. Than which, truer words were never spoken.
But this time, the turkey was not to be the problem. The bakery had no stale bread for stuffing; the produce section no fresh cranberries. Bread I could make stale by my own self, but what would I do about the cranberries?
From a tender age, I had avoided tinned cranberry sauce. Something about the texture — all chewy skins and unpleasantly squishy bits — put me right off. Barely tolerating even cranberry jelly and lacking the gravy gene altogether, I ate unadorned turkey for years — decades, really. We likely need look no further for the source of my lack of motivation in mastering the black art of bringing turkey to table.
A few years ago, an American friend made one of those casual yet life-changing comments, wondering aloud why anyone bought tinned cranberry sauce when the Real Thing was so easy to make from scratch. Really? And so it proved to be — boil cranberries in equal parts water and sugar for five minutes and there you are: turkey adornment, ready to go.
Taste-testing my first-ever result before serving it to guests, I was pleasantly surprised and slightly annoyed. This was good, as well as simple! Why had no one told me before? And so the Dread Turkey dinner acquired a new tradition: home-cooked cranberry sauce. Now, I thought, I can see what that tinned glop was standing in for.
But now — with no fresh cranberries available for this off-season, appropriated Thanksgiving — I am stymied. What to do? There being no time to embark on an exhaustive search, I send the Big Guy out to buy — shudder — tinned cranberry sauce, while the Tiny Dread Turkey does its thing in my oven.
As the maligned glop comes out of the tin in a plop, I note that it looks very like the sauce I’ve been proudly making for the last few years. Odd — I’d expect it to look as different as it tastes. I snitch a small spoonful from the serving dish. Hmm. This is, well, quite good. The next taste and the next confirm that first impression — I like tinned cranberry sauce almost as much as my home-cooked version. It likely wouldn’t quite pass muster in a side-by-side comparison, but it’s at least OK. What the heck happened?
I’d like to think that advances in food processing have somehow led to a big improvement in processed cranberry sauce, but I suspect that my tastes have just changed. After all, I probably haven’t tried this stuff since I was a teenager. Why should I? I knew I didn’t like it.
But at some point in the intervening 45 years, my tastes changed. Now I wonder what other foods I might have written off as a teenager that the almost-senior me might actually enjoy. And I wonder what other ideas, music, literature, activities, places — even people — I might have written off a little cavalierly, a little, shall we say, pre-maturely.
It’s not an epiphany, exactly, but it just might be a wake-up call.