Food Culture

Yes, small children, first we drink the milk.  The good sweet milk, the rich fatty milk, the bluish cloudy clear-running milk.  Milk makes us, milk and mother.

And then we eat the berries, the tart and sweet and sticky berries with their staining juices.

We suck on the avocado pit, getting up the last of that patina of nutty, creamy richness.

We take a naive mouthful of lemon rind, grimace in surprise, but go back for another taste.  And another, sour-sweet and pith-bitter.

We bite the tomatoes, an explosion of seeds and flesh landing in hair and on noses, fragile, membranous skin tearing in our teeth, juice dripping down chins, and on our tongues the taste of sunshine, hoarded in a vessel the color of fire.

We eat the bitter, green, spring herbs, and the pollen-dusted dandelion, and the peppery arugula, and the delicately sour miner’s lettuce.

We crunch into the sweet-crisp-tart raw apple, cool from storage, and stew others until pasty and honey-scented.  We accept that the pear juice will run down to our elbows and drip off, leaving clothes sticky.  We gamely taste the raw quince, furry and unpleasant, but perfumed perfection once cooked.

We chew the bread crust, teeth working, jaw strong, using a shake of the head to get another mouthful.  The structural, tanned, golden brown crust, the spongy-soft crumb, the tang of wild yeast or the motherly kiss of molasses.

We eat the beans, stewed and soaked and puréed and raw from the pod in spring, verdant and herbaceous.

We taste little dips and finger-tips of sauces and salsas and dressings, some painfully spicy, some silky-smooth, some that make the back of your throat warm, some that pucker your cheeks.

And then we try potatoes; soft, fluffy mashed potatoes with melting-away butter, and the salty fries, and the green-and-white stick-to-your-ribs colcannon your great grandmother would rather die than admit to.

We tear the frybread, and it makes a sound like falling silk.  It leaves the barest sheen of oil on our fingertips, and smells like scalded milk and a hot pan.

We gobble down the pappardelle and slurp up the soup, we pile up the rice and we scrape up ice cream.  We crumble the granola between our fingers, lick them clean, taste brown sugar and almond and salt.

We dollop the yogurt and we spread the jam, we curl our tongues around backwards to lick up mouth-corners full of richly red pizza sauce.  We cup our hands around the bowl of curry, spiced and warm and full.  We spill the chocolate chips accidentally-on-purpose and half-tongue-melt, half-chew them up, bitter and sweet together, velvet against teeth.

We bite-suck the figs, seeds crunching in our maw, juice dribbling down chins, leathery outsides and succulent gelid inner chambers.

We dip everything, crunchy and crispy and salted, we clean our bowls of tangy-sweet beets and goat cheese, earthy hummus, the sloppy-but-salubrious seven layers, and we use a licked fingertip to gather up detritus of zaatar and otherworldly tendrils of saffron.

We taste the singing of the wildflowers in the honey, and the babylove nourishment of cheese, and you can try the smoke and the salmon together, and the salami over the mustard, and the chewy-meaty dried bison with cranberries, even though I don’t much care for them myself.

We relish the sour pickles, and crunch up the cabbage, raw and green or stomped and preserved, and we dig our fingers into the masa, and we thump the hot loaves and listen carefully for their response.

We carry the eggs tenderly into the house, scrub them and polish them, crack them open, find that golden treasure inside.

We pop the roasted cruciferous bits into our mouths, too hot to close our lips around, but with a delicious dark-brown edge and full of warm comfort.  We argue over the corner brownie and the bubbliest socca and the best-risen pão.  We put balsamic vinegar, dark and sweet and sour, on salads and bread, over sweet potatoes and in pasta, under vibrant basil leaves, in brine for precious figs.

We burn the tomatoes to bitter and jammy, and we toast the nuts, and we cook sugar golden-brown and sticky, and we seek the perfect pasta al dente, and we chew the pebbly dark-green raw kale.

We freeze and blend and blend and freeze, we boil away the air to keep the harvest for winter, and we scrape the salt out of the finishing pans, a hoarfrost of crystal pyramids.

We cannot resist the radishes, sulfurous and crunchy, or the barely-sweet crisp carrots.  We raise the fragile sprouts and shoots in a glass jar on the kitchen table and stir them into cottage cheese.  We crumble feta into homemade yogurt, and we roast garlic in the firepit, covering it with soot but making it buttery, rich, and savory.

We fold the pastry with practiced fingers and brush on butter, egg, milk, water, and sprinkle with sesame, poppy, salt, sugar, flax.  We drop the biscuits and we steam the tortillas.  We roll the crackers and we grease the pans.  We cut out the ginger-smelling cookies and stick our fingers together drizzling them with icing.

We share what we love, and we try new things.  We ask and we learn.  We give a tentative taste to the unknown, always ready to find a new favorite.  We are loud in restaurants, laughing and telling stories, and we are still and meditative over that first morning tea mug.

We reminisce together: that crispy, addictive pakora, that herbed and creamy dip with no cream in it, those delicate pastry boxes full of crunchy asparagus, those too-spicy tacos, those perfect chocolate chip cookies, the storebought guacamole and the sleepless nights.

And in the end, we are all of these things: milk and fruit, sweet and bitter, cookies and kale, salty and sour, memories and a sense of adventure.

That, small children, is the food of our culture, and the culture of our food.