In Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake nine-year-old Rose tastes emotions in the food she eats:
So every food has a feeling, George said when I tried to explain to him the acid resentment in the grape jelly.
I guess, I said. A lot of feelings, I said.
When she tastes her brother’s toast, with butter and jam and sprinkles of sugar, she detects something folding in on itself. At the bakery she tastes the baker’s tight anger in a chocolate chip cookie.
I always taste expectation in the first few sips of champagne. Burnt pizza tastes like meanness. The hot, fluffy flesh of a jacket potato is somewhere between laughter and sleep.
All the dinners I resisted eating when I was little: could I taste my mother’s hard work and thrift in them? I was too young to empathise with the effort required of her to keep a house, to feed and clothe three kids, to pay the rent and bills on my dad’s steelworker wage, and still put away a little each week. I am sure she went without for us. I am sure they both did.
When I was eleven I visited the Roman Baths in Bath, grown up enough to wander around the thermal spa ahead of my parents, old enough to have my own pocket money to spend in the Pump Room tea and coffee shop.
It was sitting in its own fluted white paper case and looked like a doughnut glazed with syrup; a flower of cream had been nozzled onto its crown. Its exotic name was hand-written on a folded card: Rum Baba. It had to be delicious.
At the first mouthful the cloying sweetness seemed to penetrate my teeth and gums while another flavour, probably rum essence rather than true rum, rushed like a wave of acrid disappointment to the back of my throat, my nose, and even into my eyes. These were flavours beyond the capabilities of my eleven-year-old taste buds. This was a cake from an adult world. It repelled and confused me. And I felt like crying when I left it, uneaten, on the table, the proof of my pocket money squandered.
The spa water at the Baths was laced with minerals: it made us smack our tongues against our teeth, the roofs of our mouths. Is this what the past tastes like: layers of salts and sulphur compounds, calcium, potassium, magnesium. Fissures and pathways. Hardness and softness.
Hungry Writing Prompts
- Write a list of happy food.
- Write about sleep.
- Write about the things your parents never had.
- Write about someone eating cake in a coffee shop.
- Write about hardness.