All Grown Up


Peering into the Past

When I was a kid, around age 4 or so, my grandmother had a clean-your-plate rule. I was a pretty good eater back then (oh, for that metabolism these days, right?) so compliance wasn’t usually a problem.

Except for 2 foods: Brussels sprouts and turnips.

In the case of the Brussels sprouts, I had a traumatic experience with them. I didn’t particularly care for the taste but, in the interest of pleasing my elders, I wolfed one down. Whole. And it got a little stuck.

I don’t think life-saving measures had to be employed (if so, I blocked that part out) but it was scary.

Sure, as an adult I realize this could have been avoiding by cutting the little green monsters into smaller pieces or, you know, chewing them. But I was a kid. I suppose I lacked certain logic centers. Regardless: mini-cabbage was not my friend and I don’t remember it being served again.

Turnips, though, were another story. I knew I didn’t like them and I knew I didn’t want to eat them, but grandma was adamant: I was not leaving that table without getting them down.

Or so we all thought.

I tried, honestly, I put that first forkful in my mouth and chewed and–as Mom tells the story–they grew and they grew and they grew some more until my poor little chipmunk cheeks could hold them no more.

I know that was the last time they served me turnips.

Things Change

These days I love both of my foodie foes with abandon.

Brussels sprouts came back into my life via those frozen pouches with veggies and sauce. I figured I was old enough not to choke on them and I should give them another go. Yay me for being brave because oh. em. gee. they were delicious. Sure, the buttery sauce that was dripping off them had something to do with that, but it was the tender leaves of the sprouts that caught said sauce just as much. Now I like them steamed with a little bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, but tossed with curry powder and roasted is amazing, too.

Turnips were a harder sell.

Having caused a rather… violent reaction in the past, I was wary of giving them another go, convinced there was something in them that my body didn’t want in it.

Until school. Until American Regional Cuisine where I was creating a menu (for actual guests, even) that reflected the mish-mash culture of New York City and my main dish focused on the Irish immigrants.

Enter Dingle Pie.

Oddly named to our American ears, it’s named for Dingle Bay and is a lamb’s meat pie including, among other savory things, turnips. Now, I didn’t have to cook this dish (I was running the kitchen so got to assign roles–that was fun!) but I did have to serve it and, well, a good chef does not serve something she hasn’t tasted. And I had to present each course to the diners (including the dean of our department, the head of the school, a couple of admins, my Mom and my boyfriend) so I had to know the dish on more than just a theoretical level.

So I tasted it.

I did not get sick.

And, oh, it was good.

Since then my favorite way of eating turnips is turnip “fries”–peel and slice turnips into steak fry-like planks, toss with olive oil and a seasoning mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and whatever else you have around that sounds good and bake at 375 degrees until fully cooked (about 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries).

Changing Tastes

Do our taste buds mature as we do?

I remember reading, once (and wish I could remember where or find it again) that a child’s tastes run towards the sweet, first, because those taste buds develop first. Or, it could be that a young child is constantly identifying their environment through taste (learning to stick out their tongue is an early trick) and the concentration of sweet-detecting taste buds are focused at the tip of the tongue.

Or, maybe, it’s an evolutionary thing. Something hidden in the primitive part of the brain, something that animals know instinctively: bitter equals poison, sweet is safe.

I was surprised to learn we have up to 10,000 taste buds in our mouths and that they are replenished every couple of weeks. Those of us who’ve scalded our tongues tasting something that was a few shades past warm are grateful for this, I’m sure. As we age not all of those taste-receptors are replaced, which jives with what we were taught in Nutrition: elder palates are harder to please because things just don’t taste the same.

(We also learned that white pepper is easier to digest than black–the outer coating having been removed–but is exponentially stronger so use WAY less than the recipe asks for. But that’s another story.)

Your Turn!

What foods did you dislike/disliked you when you were young that you enjoy now? Are there any you’re still to scared to try? Share in the comments!