Can You Taste It?

I feel I gave the sense of taste short shrift when I all I could think to do was feature the hyperbole of food writers.  So see how this one tastes.  Excerpted from the forthcoming memoir, Evelio’s Garden.

One of my chores on the verandah has been to cut back the basil. I have seven pots of it out there, all gone leggy and struggling with aphids. Evelio’s organic insecticide is the most potent thing I’ve ever used on these aphids, but they need to be sprayed directly in order to be killed, and when there’s a lot of foliage some get missed. A drastic cutting-back was the only solution. The infected branches I simply tossed over the rail, but the healthy ones were starting to accumulate in my basket in a sufficient quantity to make Rosa pause, in her mopping of the deck, to ask me whether I made pesto with macadamia or pine nuts.

Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me to make pesto. I hadn’t thought at all what to do with all this basil, but pesto sounded like a good idea. I had both macadamia and pine nuts in the house (the macadamias are local, the pine nuts a treasure brought by my friend Shirley from a small town 400 miles north of Toronto), plenty of garlic and extra virgin olive oil, even real, imported-from-Parma Parmesan cheese. I hadn’t made pesto in years, since jars of it often make their way into the Tilarán supermarkets, and washing and pulling off all those leaves from the stems is a chore.

Italian pesto isn’t a staple of the Costa Rican diet, but Rosa worked for many tourist seasons at an Italian restaurant near here. So when I had it all made up, I invited her to sample it.

“Better,” she said. “At the restaurant they don’t use any cheese. And why would theirs be runnier? Too much oil? Why wouldn’t they use cheese – because it’s cheaper?”

I confessed that, yes, no cheese certainly made their pesto cheaper. I pulled out a jar of the commercial stuff and read the list of ingredients; no cheese there either. I dipped my spoon into the lovely pale green paste I had just made, closed my eyes, and . . . ah, so densely green and nutty, with just enough cheesy sharpness to make all the difference.

© Sandra Shaw Homer, 2016

Photo by Marten Jager

Photo by Marten Jager

Sense of Taste in Writing: The Hell of Hyperbole


For me, the most challenging sense in writing is the sense of taste, which is why I’ve left it for last. I love good food, interesting food, food from all over the world, but I am utterly challenged to explain what it is about a particular taste that captivates me. I think I am intimidated by professional food writers . . . in their constant bid to outdo each other they have descended into the Hell of Hyperbole where we are left wondering what the hell they are talking about. Thus my delight at finding the following description of the output of British caterers in a recent UK Guardian:

From “Wedding Season is Here: Crimes Against Food”

by Jay Rayner

“We are meant to be experiencing a British food revolution, and in many ways we are. There are better restaurants than ever before. But in the business of mass catering we are generally awful. I say generally. Obviously, if you run a catering firm and you’re limbering up to complain, I don’t mean you. You’re brilliant. Likewise, the food at your wedding was obviously fabulous. It’s everyone else.

“Everyone else is responsible for dry canapés that taste only of margarine and complacency. Everyone else is responsible for desiccated lumps of yesterday’s pre-cooked chicken the colour of an old stained sink; for sauces that could creosote fences and vegetables so overboiled you could suck them through a straw; for cream desserts that have split, and overbaked tarts with pastry like walnut shells. And the cost! I only use exclamation marks for shouting, which is what I’m doing. THE COST! Despite economies of scale, caterers charge more for this dismal crud than the price of a quality restaurant meal and rising. Why are they allowed to get away with it?”


I don’t think that anyone who has attended a catered wedding — on either side of the Atlantic — would fail to understand exactly what Mr. Rayner is talking about.  Applause, please.  SSH

Photo by SSH

Photo by SSH