"Are there really foods that we don’t like, or just foods that we haven’t liked yet?" Bruni asks, suggesting that it’s never too late to develop a taste for foods we think we abhor. He concedes that most people are convinced that they hate broccoli, parnips or calf brain.
“All of them assume that their predilections are as rooted as redwoods, as fixed as eye color. And all of them are wrong, because appetite isn’t just or even mainly physiological. It’s psychological. Emotional. It’s a function of expectation, emulation, adaptation.”
Over my bowl of oatmeal this morning (a food I disliked as a kid, preferring “Markie-wants-his-Maypo), I got to thinking about the foods I once shunned that became my “can’t-live-withouts.”
Growing up in Boston, I hated the rhubarb pies my Nana routinely trotted out at Sunday family noon-time dinners. Slimy. Stringy. Yuck. I didn’t give a hoot that the rhubarb was picked from the backyard garden hours before. That the crust was handmade with lots of Crisco. All I wanted was an ordinary hot fudge sundae. (Photo above from FineCooking.)
But when she died in 1981 – she was 86, I was 33 – my cousin Wendy baked fresh strawberry-rhubarb pies for the reception after the funeral. Somehow, during an afternoon of comforting our Grandpa, crying about our loss, laughing about the good ol’ days, and, yes, eating pie, rhubarb became one of my favorite flavors. Just ask my friends, who know that if the rosy stalks are in season, they will be on the table -- in crisp, crumble or pie -- every time they come for dinner.
I experienced another Age of Enlightenment when I lived in Austria for a year. There was sauerkraut, sauerkraut everywhere. In open wooden barrels in stores, on restaurant menus, on our friends’ tables, where feasts were built around a steaming mountain of the stuff with sausages and meats poking out.
The smell alone nauseated me, bringing back disagreeable memories of one Christmas Eve, when my sister Marcia and I refused to eat the sauerkraut on the dinner table --- what kind of stinky foreign stuff was this anyway? –-- and got sent to bed without the traditional singing of Christmas Carols. I hated sauerkraut before that night and hated it even more after.
However, as a 30–year-old in Innsbruck, experiencing a new culture, speaking a new language, and making new friends, I allowed sauerkraut to slither its way into the whole exhilarating experience.
Today I love it. And my family loves our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Bauernschmaus, which I discovered in Austria’s many farmhouse restaurants, is a heap of sauerkraut, cooked with apples and onions, then baked with sausages, smoked pork chops and dumplings called Knödeln, and served with a half-dozen types of mustard.
In his article, Bruni regales us with yuck-turned-to-yum tales from his friends and colleagues. Please dig into the food memory bank and share your stories with us too.