This week’s share: Beans, Cilantro, Escarole, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Squash, Tomatoes
We were talking about synesthesia the other day, and trying to imagine–unsuccessfully–what it would be like to hear taste. To us that seemed the hardest conjunction of senses. Which in a way is odd because taste certainly seems to overlap with the other senses fairly easily. To smell taste, of course, is simple. Indeed, it is hard to separate the two. And when you do you discover how limited and unsatisfying taste alone can be. To feel taste is not much harder. It has definite textures. To see taste requires a little more of an effort, though think of the vibrant green of a fresh salad leaf or the rich orange of a sweet potato and you realize perhaps it is not so difficult after all. But to hear taste? What would a lime sound like? How does the sound of a fresh carrot compare to the sound of a roasted one?
There are specific sounds that go with foods. The distinctive crunches of that fresh carrot and a potato chip, the sizzle of meat on a grill, the snap of a bean. These sounds may help bring tastes to mind, but they are not actually related to taste so much as to texture and temperature. You only get from the sound to the taste via another sense. Taste itself seems to remain pretty quiet.
In fact, though, the world these days is full of the sound of taste. Or at least some attempt at the sound of taste. I am talking about all the food verbiage. Yes, I understand that we do not generally think of words and sounds as the same thing, and the link between a word and a sensation is complicated. But I also spent long enough in school steeping in a cauldron of French literary theory–or was I the cauldron of liquid and the theory the agent supposed to flavor me? And if so, which part of me is vessel and which liquid? And does this image of infused knowledge suggest a passive approach to learning or is it merely a playful reminder of my English heritage? Such are the puzzles with which we literature majors wrestle. But I digress– to understand the culturally systematized randomness of language, the fragile and fraught link between the sound of a word and the thing it is supposed to mean.
When a restaurant critic waxes eloquent about some overwrought fish appetizer he has encountered at the chic new farm to table small plate Asian inflected Ecuadorean gastropub, he is trying to find the word sounds that will somehow transport the delicate and surprising flavor of that dish to his readers. And these days our culture seems to be awash (again with the liquid imagery) in such attempts to convey flavor through words, with everyone capable of sharing restaurant reviews, innumerable TV food shows and herds of chatty celebrity chefs and food activists loose on the land.
With all that going on, you would think we might have found a way to convey taste in words. But I feel that if anything we are getting worse at it. With all the competition, people are finding every more eloquent ways to talk about food in order to make themselves stand out. But the result, it seems to me is mostly just noise, noise that tells us a fair amount–usually something less than entirely flattering–about the pretensions of the writer and little about the food. At best, food description engages in a sort of triangulation method, throwing out a set of comparisons–it is south of mozzarella sticks, west of fried chicken, and just over the border from a dorito–and leaving you to try to figure where in this uncertain terrain the food might lie.
Perhaps we all need more practice talking about food, more time to develop an accurate vocabulary. And perhaps we all need more time to practice tasting, to really think about what we are sensing to we can find the right words for it. But maybe it’s a hopeless effort and there is no good way to convey tastes through some other medium.
And maybe it is a pointless effort too, since we can convey tastes by offering people the food itself so they can experience the taste directly. I don’t really feel the need to write poems about tomatoes so you can experience their pleasure in allusive words. I prefer just to give you some tomatoes that I have chosen to grow and let you actually eat them. I think this is partly what makes sharing food so powerful, that it is the only true way to communicate with one another about something so crucial and enticing. It’s like singing in a group or holding hands or looking at a sunset together. So maybe sometimes we could all shut up about the good food we are eating and share it. That would really say something.
Vegetable notes: Once again you have an extra crop in your box, either artichokes or husk cherries or edamame. We do not grow large quantities of any of these. The deer love edamame (they mowed down half the crop this year, even after I sprayed in with repellant twice) and they are a little finicky anyway. Husk cherries grow wild in the field so they should thrive in this climate. But they don’t always thrive, and some years we get hardly any fruit. As for artichokes, well, they don’t really belong here at all, and the deer will eat them too if they find them. It would probably make more sense for us not to grow these uncertain crops. But we like them, and growing them on a small scale amuses us. And it amuses us even more when we have enough to hand them out to you.
As for everything else in your box, it probably looks reasonably familiar by this point in the season and I have no great new ideas about what to do with any of it. But if any of you have come up with exciting new dishes that you would like to share, please let me know. Or to put it another way, I start to run out of energy around this point in the season so if you would like to help me fill up this space that would be great. Not as great as having you come and help weed the carrots, but I have learned to be realistic about what farm tasks people are likely to want to do.