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Monday, 17 February 2014

My Five Senses on Steroids

By Mary Hertslet

It's interesting, for instance, how hearing a few notes of a song will send us into a rush of memories. It seems to work with all of our senses whether it's a taste of something or a smell we've never forgotten.

I believe our sensory perceptions are grounded in a backlog of memories we have. In my case, it was alien senses that affected me during my travels one summer.

For three months while traveling in many different foreign countries, my senses had been bombarded and overpowered by each country I visited. Many of these sights, sounds, smells, etc. were alien to me, without memory of anything I had ever experienced before.

Coming back home for a short visit to the states, I noticed how my senses became unusually heightened. I believe because, now, my memory was involved and my senses came out into a clear and vivid reality once more.

This had made a big impression on me, as you can see here in a small excerpt from a page I wrote during our home visit near the end of our 1959 around-the-world trip.

''As our plane started its descent a few miles outside of Kansas City, Missouri, we had a beautiful view of the Missouri River and its surrounding cliffs and farmlands with its black, rich Missouri soil. We were home at last.

“The next morning we awoke to familiar sounds and smells from the kitchen where Hersh’s mom was cooking breakfast. Coffee percolated in the coffee pot while bacon sizzled in the skillet and homemade, buttermilk pancakes cooked on an iron griddle on top of the stove.”

Marie was a wonderful cook. In 1953, when Hersh and I were first married, we lived with his parents one summer while waiting for fall semester at college to begin. I often sat at the kitchen table watching Marie bake or fix dinner hoping I could learn to cook and make some of her great dishes.

I quickly tried to jot down ingredients for some of the dishes she made but there was a problem. She never measured anything. Her directions were simply, 'a pinch of this,' 'a bit of that' and 'a cup more or less' of something.

Being a first-time cook, I thought I needed to know precisely. Was it more or was it less?

I soon realized that cooking was an art with or without recipes. I saw how Marie used all of her senses in creating her dishes, tasting for just the right seasoning, feeling the dough for the right consistency to make her cinnamon rolls or pie crusts and keeping eyes and ears alert to casseroles bubbling in the oven or potatoes boiling on the stove.

But perhaps the sense of smell was left for us to enjoy the aromas that came from her turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or her chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven.

Marie assured me that I would learn all of this in time and I did. I reached the point where I became a good cook. I knew I was a good cook when Hersh said so because, after all, he was comparing me with his mom.

And Hersh did say, “My mom is the greatest cook in the world.”

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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Mary, I really relate to the idea of learning to cook by using your senses. I asked for some of my mother's recipes when I was a young woman and got the same sort of "a bit of this, a bit of that" answer.

At the time, I thought I needed to follow a recipe to the letter and was afraid to try some of my mother's wonderful dishes, until I finally figured out that the amounts didn't need to be that precise.

Over the years I've become an excellent cook and see a recipe as just a suggestion. I'm free to vary the ingredients and the amounts.

Except when making pie crust which isn't so much a matter of measuring but of technique in cutting in the Crisco or butter and adding just enough but not too much water. I think my mother would love my pies as much as I loved hers.

Hi Mary,
You really captured this one. You painted such a picture that I felt like I was in that kitchen.

I have no idea when I became that kind of cook, but it's been tough to teach that kind of cooking. Hopefully my children will somehow acquire my kind of cooking methods, because it really does expand the possibilities in the culinary arts.

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