“Cooking With “All” The Senses”
“Deja Vu” : (Definition) – “already seen”, or “paramnesia” is the experience of feeling sure that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously (an individual feels as though an event has already happened or has happened in the recent past), although the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain.
Recently (well, almost a year and a half ago), I received five or six very large bags and boxes of cookbooks, product pamphlets, tin recipe boxes, miscellaneous folders and a plethora of individual recipe cards inserted throughout all that belonged to my mother. Initially I became quite overwhelmed with the task of going through them. Many times I started to sort and I became just too emotional to continue. After many weeks of starting, stopping, starting, stopping I realized if I had a goal I might be able to get through the process while eating a lot of childhood meals and have quite a good time in the process. (I did try just putting them on a book shelf but that didn’t work.) The goal is to categorize the favorite family recipes, add some of my own from my years of cooking and invite family members, friends and newcomers to add their past, present and future recipes for all of us to enjoy.
Some of the cookbooks were from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s but this one, “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” is very worn and fragile from use and I remember using as a child. Another one in particular “Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Tried and True Recipes” has a chapter named “Primer for Brides” which was quite telling about how my Mother entered her cooking world. It went into great detail for the new bride, and I quote,
“Now for the first time you become a homemaker in your own new and shining kitchen You will want to try a lot of these recipes, especially those which are your husband’s favorites. But before you branch out too far there is an essential group of dishes you should be able to prepare “with assurance”. I have set these down here at the beginning so you can find them easily and if possible, before you are married, learn to prepare them one by one in your mother’s kitchen. Check each one as you are successful with it. Once your thirty-six check marks are in place, I, for one, consider you well-launched toward your goal of being a proficient wife and hostess.”
After I controlled myself and stopped laughing I finally knew why all my mother’s cookbooks, magazines and pamphlets had “check-marks” (some double and triple checked) all over, pages noted to refer to another recipe and a multitude of notes (good thing though, now I know which ones to try). I had never dared asked her again, as the first time I had asked when I was a young girl her response was, “they’re mine and I will do what I want with them”. Case closed. But she had taught “me” never to mark up books (or walls either) so it was always a nagging question in my mind. Later that day I related the story of the “check-marks” to a friend and in such a matter of fact way she said, “Of course, that was a woman’s “job” back then and they certainly should study and practice.” And the mystery is solved.
Of course our five senses guide us through all the cooking processes, whether we are aware of it or not. For me it starts at the market with the “sight” of the foods that excite and entice a purchase, the “touch” which helps decide which item to buy, the “smell” that further carries your brain to another part of the recipe or a complementing recipe for another purchase. At home while beginning to prepare your fresh ingredients you go through all three of these senses again but when you “hear” your food while preparing and cooking your brain will guide you through the recipe by the “sound” without anything written. The snaps, pops and sizzles will make sure you are right on target with your preparations and timing. And again you start to “touch” different items, your fingers will tell you when the baked goods and meats are ready, the “smell” will call you from any part of the house to remind you to hurry back to the kitchen because whatever you may be making your brain has registered that it is just about ready. Through all of these steps the “sight” continues to please you and if you are the one cooking you are the first to “taste” everything to make sure all the seasonings are correct and flavorful. As you prepare the table the “sight” and “sound” of the crystal, china and cutlery prepare your anticipation of the “taste” you have been waiting for since initially concieved in your mind or from a recipe card from the past. You cut flowers, greens or herbs from the garden to enhance the table with the season you may be enjoying and each “smell” will be registering in your brain similar meals and occasions of such pleasure and some ghosts as well. Near the end of this enriching process the “smell” has changed many times, intensified and is now inviting you to sit down to partake; whether alone, with family or friends and to enjoy the “taste” of your personal experience of that special meal and they will add it to theirs as well.
In addition to all our wonderful senses I am blessed or sometimes mocked and ridiculed with “Synesthesia”. It comes in many forms but mine is associated with “smells”. Let’s say I am reading a recipe (hopefully a good one), I can smell the ingredients cooking, if I look at photographs and see aromatic food the smell is overwhelming. It does not happen every time or at will, synesthesia makes its own life. The bad parts about it I am sure you can imagine, but generally it is alarmingly nostalgic and I can be in someone’s kitchen or on a street corner in many parts of the world entrenched in a moment in time.
So now I will attempt to go about recreating some of the old favorites and trying some new additions that will hopefully make it to the favorite list as well. Each recipe brings wonderful memories and images of people, places and experiences. When I am planning meals, cooking and dining all the five senses, “Deja Vu” and a little “Synesthesia” added bring their own parts of the food experience for me. The recipes are the inspiration, the senses do the cooking and “Deja Vu” brings it to the table. I think that is the main reason that I enjoy the rituals and rites of cooking so much. If you have any requests and/or recipes to share, I hope you will join me for the journey.