The Question of Taste, or lack thereof…

I remember the taste of that iced coffee as if it were only a few minutes ago yet it must be at least twenty years. We were in Africa with friends who had invited us to join them on their time share, a compound with wild animals and a swimming pool. On the way we stopped at a strange place that wasn’t a bar or a garage or a shop or anything really but it had seats and tables outside. After a few exchanges of camaraderie, the proprietor, who seemed to know our friends well, disappeared and returned, beaming, with a tray of four tall glasses full to their brims with what looked like ice cream. Sitting in the all enveloping heat of African sunshine and slurping down that chilled, fluffy, foaming, coffee-flavoured deliciousness through a straw is lodged in my memory for ever.

Food and eating it are probably the most enduring memories I have. I even remember mushrooms – NOT the magic kind I hasten to add – in Santa Barbara in California. We visited a friend of my mother’s who was so rich she had a chef. He produced fried mushrooms like I had never tasted before. I raved about them so much he was asked to make me a second helping. Finely sliced and cooked gently in olive oil and butter (this was 50 years ago and I had never heard of mixing oil and butter) along with crushed garlic, cream and lots of black pepper they were unforgettable.

My parents took me to London once and Danish friends invited us to dinner where I was introduced to cooked spinach with a poached egg on top. This too I raved about and was given a second helping only to discover, after I had wolfed it down, it had been the ‘starter’. I struggled to get through the other courses but will never forget that sensational combination of egg yolk and spinach!

Although I was scared of it at first, I have, over the years, come to enjoy feeding people and nowadays find cooking and entertaining, creative and fun. Well, I did until I lost the senses of taste and smell.

After a weird kind of flu a year ago last January, it gradually dawned on me I couldn’t taste anything. Whenever or whatever one is cooking it is necessary to taste it from time to time to see what seasoning is required and I found it impossible. It was horrific. Everything tasted of nothing. I was able to feel chile and hot spices on my tongue but the intensity of them or what they were doing to the overall dish passed me by.

I too realised, as I sprayed perfume on my neck and wrists, that good old Yves St Laurent was also passing me by! My expensive scent could have been distilled water from the local garage. Nothing. Not a whiff of anything. Scary or what?

It was fortunate that my friend Anne who shares my studio and frequently the kitchen when she wants to make coffee or have a chat, kindly accepted the invitation to become my official taster and smeller. She is allowed to open the fridge, grimace, hold her nose and tell me there is something going off in there. She tells me when the compost bin is stinky or if I have B.O. (She hasn’t had to do that yet I am glad to say). She also tastes my soup, casseroles and other culinary creations to see if I have added the necessary ingredients and if she collapses on the floor clutching her stomach, I know I am going to poison people.

The doctor told me my olfactory senses may come back but kindly didn’t say that at my age it wasn’t likely. Added to diminished hearing and no longer being able to judge where I am putting my feet, life in ‘lock down’ is quite a relief! No one is around to see me totter, turn my head to hear something better, continually eat toast because cooking for me on my own is boring, or burn the milk which I do nearly every morning because I can’t hear it boiling over or smell it when it sizzles on the hot plate.

I don’t know why I bother with the hot milk and coffee ritual anymore as all it tastes of in the end is like water I’ve boiled the dusters in with the slightest hint of rotting leaves… Oh hell! I am an optimist and am hoping that, maybe, if I just bash on, I will once again enjoy its aroma and coffee will taste like coffee again.

Photo by stokpic is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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