And so we come to the first thing people think of when they think of cooking from scratch (or why they aren’t doing it, more importantly) – provided, of course, that their parents or grandparents ever did so. I have almost made the blithe generalisation that of course they did, but at least in the case of parents, I realise, that is not at all necessarily so. But quite often it is so, at least to some extent, and so when people think of cooking at home, they automatically think of some dish or another they used to love as a kid, that their mother (grandmother, nanny, etc.) fed them: the proverbial fish soup “just like mom used to make” – and the disappointment of never being able to prepare it as well as they remember it being.
The story about mom’s fish soup was something which came up in a discussion with Niklas (mentioned in the prevous post), the one about why people don’t cook at home, or think they can’t do it well enough to make it worth the while. Niklas is a practical creature, and tends to understand humanity better than I, at least on most days. So it was he who pointed out the implications of the fact that one’s taste buds develop and subsequently, our tastes change quite a lot as we mature.
It is well known that what we like to eat changes drastically from when we are toddlers to when we are 6-8, to teenage years, and so on. Everyone I ever spoke about this to said that they can think back and go “… I used to hate food X, but I really like it now!” about some foodstuff or another. Unfortunately, the logical jump in reverse direction which most people do not make, is the fact that just because something tasted wonderful when you were a kid, does not mean it still will taste the same or as good as it did then, once you have grown up.
Back to the hypothetical fish soup – say, you always did love it when you were little, and mother made it for Saturday lunch. And so you have, having long moved out after the turbulent teenage years of not eating Saturday lunches in rebellion (or because you slept till 3pm after partying the day before), and you realise that you’ve missed the fish soup. But you now live four hours’ drive (or fifteen hours flight, depends on how much of a wanderer you are) from mom, and wish you could make the soup yourself. So you call mom up, and you ask about it. “Oh, it’s easy…” she says, and tells you about it, and helpfully emails a recipe with detailed instructions.
Armed with a soup pot, a colander, a dead fish staring at you from its plastic-covered tray (or perhaps helpfully, a plastic tray filled with pieces of filleted fish that do not unnerve you with staring), you make a heroic effort and spend a couple of hours on a Saturday meticulously following instructions for the soup. It does not burn, it smells good, it even looks right… you taste a spoonful and are disappointed. Why? Well, it just doesn’t taste like that fish soup you ate when you were five.
The problem is, you cannot make it taste right. You have cooked it, and it probably is just as good, or even better, than it actually was at the time, but your taste has changed, and what you are tasting (a little too bland, a touch too salty?) is not the soup’s – or, more importantly – your cooking skills’ fault. It is the result of the aforementioned change in your taste and how you perceive food.
Sadly, to many, this disappointment is a contribution to the reasoning why they do not bother to try to cook at home more. After all, it is a little disheartening (or a lot) to think that even when you do your best, it just does not turn out the way you want it to. People become convinced that they “just aren’t good at it” and drop the idea or “leave it for sometime when I have time to learn this better” (which then does not happen).
The point here is that this disillusionment need not come to pass if people only realise it is better to learn to cook for their adult taste buds and discover that they can spoil themselves magnificently (no one knows what you like to eat like you do!), rather than to try to replicate a fond memory of their childhood. Because, like many other objects of nostalgia, some memories are best left as such.