We’ve all had a pivotal food moment, right? Even those who care nothing about the taste of what they eat, consume calories purely to stay alive, have had a moment that stopped them for a second.
Sometimes it is when you’re a kid and grandma is visiting or you are visiting her and she gives you something out of the ordinary family fare you get used to at home. Maybe as a young adult you hit a new restaurant and previously unknown intensity is pulled up from your startled gut. Perhaps dining out with a foodie friend finds you at a “real” restaurant that serves food that someone actually picked and cooked for you.
At the time, a sudden taste rolls onto your tongue setting off a chain of events. Your breath is quieted or momentarily stopped. Your eyes close, and for a moment you lose touch with where you are and your surroundings. All sounds stop and taste takes ove,r queuing the brain center to ask, "what is that flavor?" Slowly breath is released and if you are even the least bit in touch with yourself, you realize that you just had a pivotal food moment or, as some call it, a foodgasm. Indeed the excitement recedes, being tucked away into the far corners of your food center until something comes by to trip it and you remember and if you are anything close to me, you absolutely must recreate the flavor.
I’ve had many experiences with flavor that I loved and noted. My Mom’s Satsuma plums, canned off the tree. Her rhubarb stewed with sugar and draped over ice cream. A&W root beer floats from the actual A&W on Contra Costa Blvd. across from the drive-in. Salisbury steak at Grandmas and divinity she brought to our house at Christmas time. Awesome food memories all, but not pivotal moments.
My first hard core pivotal moment came when I was 15 and for some inexplicable reason, my parents took me, with my aunt and uncle but none of my other siblings, to Hotel Mac in Point Richmond. Having been granted permission to order anything I wanted (alone unbelievable), Filet Mignon with Béarnaise caught my eye. Prawn cocktails with sweet, plump beer-steamed shrimp resplendent in spicy ketchup and horseradish sauce commenced the meal. Huge, crisp salads, drowning in blue cheese dressing, cheesy garlic bread, crusty, crunching in your mouth as it melted, deliciously followed. I was already stuffed. As the formally clad waiter started dropping entrées in front of us, my nose caught an unidentifiable scent causing my mind to reel and my blood to start pumping. We had a lot of kids in my family and filet mignon did not ever, not once, start on any menu in our home growing up and I had no idea what to expect. With an underwater quality my knife poetically slid through the beef, slipping into the puddle of Béarnaise and I was curiously mesmerized. As the perfectly medium rare bite glanced my tongue followed milliseconds later by the smooth, thick sauce I became sensuously overloaded. My heart stopped and my head filled with nothing but taste. All portions of my tongue were alive and excited. Unconsciously I started to hum, almost turning into song. Slowly chewing the buttery piece of meat I realized that something incredibly special had over taken me and there was absolutely no thought of going back. Tarragon became my favorite herb.
Even now, as a devoutly non red meat eating food freak, I can taste that meal and tarragon is always growing in my garden. I recreate the flavor as often as I can, using crazy combinations that totally delineate from filet mignon with béarnaise but always raise the same kind of excitement with similar flavor combinations and mouth feel. Pivotal food moments are just about equal to a splendid sexual moment. Foodgasm. Is that crude or realistic? I choose real as they or so basically connected in my everyday life and I believe the everyday lives of everyone that chooses to feel the food feelings.
I have just this moment finished making Satsuma plum jam and canned a mess of plums from my plum tree that I had to purchase as soon as I bought my house to recreate splendid childhood memories of my Mom’s fabulous foods. Tops are popping, each time causing excitement in my tummy as I hear it. It means it worked and I did it right. Of course it becomes anomalous, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick along with crudely refined turbinado sugar to give it a caramel kind of taste and lots of lemon in the jam to give it a sweet tart tongue experience. One of my favorite candies to this day is sour gummy worms.
Pivotal food moments. We all have them and they all must contain an element of delusion to create ultimate excitement but are real enough to create impact. It is how we and what we do with them that differentiates us. Summer time is probably the best time of year to faithfully fulfill childhood memories and longings due to sheer volume of seasonal foods. Go with it. Be a kid, be true to that precious moment and close your eyes and feel.
Satsuma Plum Jam
8 cups chopped Satsuma plums
3 tablespoons fruit pectin
2 cups turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Peel and juice of 1 big, juicy lemon
Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch. Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 8 half pints.