Throughout our long and passionate marriage, my wife Alanna has often compared a delicious, homemade dinner to the products of the most iconic fast food chain in the world. Specifically, she will say, “This tastes just like [most iconic fast food chain in the world’s hamburger.]” My standard response is to vehemently disagree, regardless of who cooked. My best argument is that it’s been a decade and a half since she ate there, so no matter how strong her memories of it might be, she’s pulling them from pretty deep in the vault.
I saw things from a new perspective after baking cookies a couple weeks ago. They were my best effort yet, and as I ate them in a state of utter rapture, I made an offhand comment about how buttery they tasted. Alanna had one, and while she assured me they tasted good, she also assured me they tasted distinctly of the lard with which they were made.
Since she had eaten butter with her breakfast while I had not touched it for going on four months, I conceded that she had a better basis for comparison. And yet, they really did taste buttery to me in a way that no previous baked goods had. Was it simply a matter of my tastes drifting further and further from a standard reference point, or, as the days stretched on with my palate exposed to such a limited variety of foods, had I begun to detect ever more nuanced flavors highlighted by the subtleties of a given preparation?
Of course, there’s no way to answer this. I like to think that some hitherto dormant delicacy of taste has been roused within me, and that I will carry it forward from here on out. I still think Alanna is off base when she compares a meal of braised pork shoulder and roasted parsnips to a pathetic burger, but maybe I have a better idea of how one taste can evoke another without the two actually having that much in common. And those cookies? After eating a couple more we agreed that they tasted exactly like pecan sandies, which I haven’t had since I was twelve.