Last night while cleaning I came across the comment card each patron of The Fat Duck gets to fill out at the end of their meal. But instead of asking for input on how clean their waiters hair was or what kind of vegatable they'd like to see in lolly pops, it asks diners to share the flavors that take them back to childhood. Taste can unlock the nostalgic in a way like no other. Most often taste brings up memories from the innocence of your childhood. These are memmories that have faded with time like an old photograph and often capture an entire summer rather than one meal. I'll never forget the first time I tasted freshly shaved white truffles, but an orange popsicle takes me back to summers at the little brown house in the trees that we moved away from when I was 6.
Thomas Keller was the first that I saw to utilize nostalgia to deliver his cuisine. His pairings of peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, and coffee and donuts allowed him to give diners the feeling of knowing the food in an intimate manner. If he had titled his dessert "gelee of grape dusted in caster sugar with a truffle of ground turkish peanuts" the dessert would never reached diners on such a memorable level. But by using nostalgia he instead delivered the dish directly into a warm fuzzy place deep inside every Americans mind.
It's also a way to keep fine cuisine humble. It's not artsy fartsy, it's peas and carrots. I don't know what semi fredo of cappuchino with warm spiced fritters are, I think I'll have the coffee and donuts instead.
Well, The Fat Duck delivers nostalgia too. It is in many dishes, one being the snail porridge. The blatantly familiar texture of the oats allows Heston to present diners with snails without wrinkled noses. (And dont tell me that you are such a cultured diner that the little kid in you doesn't still wrinkle up their nose in memory of the wierd kid down the road who ate snails and slugs for a nickle. While your tounge is judging the (delicious) snails, the skeptisism is drowned by the recognition of porridge.
Also dwelling in the rhelm of the familiar is something called a pine sherbet fountian. To me, the yank, sherbet is like sorbet and comes in flavors like rainbow (or orange with vanilla ice cream that you have to eat with a little wooden spoon, I allways chewed up the little spoon afterwards, so I guess wood is another ellement of that!!). But to folks on this side, sherbet is a sweet (fizzy?) flavored powder. It's what we call pixy sticks. The Fat Duck uses this nostalgic delivery to present the flavor of pine on the 7 courses of dessert that come with the tasting menu. This pine pixy stick has a straw made of a vanilla pod and is used very strategically. Pine is actually a rather intrusive flavor at first, but once you get to know it, it is actually quite friendly. So to introduce your pallete to the pine flavor in the mango dessert that follows, the sherbet shocks your tounge with the flavor. All the while, you are having such a fantastic trip down memory lane remembering the wierd kid down the road who snorted pixy sticks for a nickle that you don't even notice that Heston is paving the way for the next course. By the time it arrives, your tounge is so familiar with the flavor of pine that it can be set along side more subtle flavors without stealing their thunder.
I tried a truffle flavored with tobacco. If you gave that to a certain someone back home with a whisky he'd exclaim, "mmm....smells like grandma!!!"
This leads into chapter two of this entry.
I started asking around about others nostalgic food memories. There are the obvious American choices; p.b. and j., apple pie, pumpkin pie, hot dogs,hamburgers, corndogs (or pronto pups if you come from a wierd state like oregon), grilled cheese and tomato soup. The list goes on.
For me a big one was strawberry freezer jam. Every year my grandma Eva would take us out to the u-pick strawberry farm and pick all morning. She used to joke that they should weigh us before we went in and after and charge for what we ate too. Then we'd spend the afternoon cleaning the berries and making them into freezer jam. The beauty of freezer jam is that you don't cook the fruit so it tastes like a fresh berry forever. It is to this day my favorite jam ever and a taste that transports me to many cherrished days.
Paul gave two worthwhile answers. Rice pudding with jam was his nostalgic food of choice, but he gave this information hesitantly. "Music," he said, "is really what takes me to a time and place." With this I must agree. A song has the capability to take you back to a moment with just a few notes. The difference I see here is that music seems to take you back to memories you made as a grown person with a sense of awareness. Food takes you back to the hazy innocence of your earliest days.
Carl the stagiere from Boston talked fondly of sweet potatoes with mini marshmellows baked on top that so often accompany a thanksgiving meal. Sorry Carl, but my family was classier than that!! Just kidding.
My roommates Dan and Marta sat side by side and spoke excitedly of biscuits when the question was put to them. Not just any biscuits (cookies for us yanks) but dunking biscuits. They chattered on about the dipping technique of each different biscuit. One will bend over soggy like if you don't get enough wrist into it. Another leaves mush in the bottom of your tea if you aren't sharp enough. Another, the pink wafer, was sure to be served only at your grans house.
All it would take to bring the excitement I witnessed on the couch to a restaurant table is to create a dessert based on this nostalgia. Tea and dippers, or light mousse of darjeerling and bergamot with an assortment of petitfours.
Any input on your nostalgic flavors?