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.