Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Smell of a Potato

A slightly prettier table spread from Food52 

It hit me by surprise. A combination of smells that transported me through time. That’s how smell works though isn’t it. It’s actually kind of hard to just close your eyes and think of a smell that would take you back to when you last experienced it without actually smelling it. When it happens, the clarity of the memory is so evocative it may trigger all sorts of emotions and tremors in your body. For me it was a baked potato that I had just taken off the grill, cut into and stuffed with a pad of butter. This was paired with a sweet BBQ sauce on pork. The entire meal was improvised and put together quickly. I had decided to bake the potato but didn’t have the energy to do much more. I don’t often grill pork chops and lacking imagination I grabbed a little used bottle of Diana Barbecue sauce. As I absorbed the odours, it was as if the world paused for a moment while my brain took in the flicker of images, sounds and senses from probably forty years ago.

I was on our patio in the Goulds on a rare warm and windy day with a low, unbroken clouded sky. We had all taken turns paying attention to the pork chops on the grill so who knew how many layers of Kraft BBQ sauce had been poured on the meat and smoothed out by a fork (sauce brushes were not a thing in our house). The potatoes came out of the oven, maybe a little over done, the skin toughened and blackened in some spots. I think it was that little burning of the skin that was the catalyst for transporting me back to a Newfoundland summer. It was certainly a trifecta of potato skin, butter and that sweet, smoky sauce slightly caramelized at the edges that really threw me back in time.  

There were so many meals like that. A pile of chops and potatoes with maybe a side of sautéed onions. Much of our meal time chatter was without meaning; “You want water or lemonade?” “Has anyone seen the butter? Where’s the butter?” “I don’t have a knife. Who else needs a knife?” “Sit down, boys, it’s getting cold.” “Who’s truck was that on the road?” “Where?” “The one that looked broken down.” “Oh, one of the Williams I think.” All of this backed by a score of cutlery on china, glasses clinking edges of plates, chairs nudged to comfort. When six people get together to eat, there is sound. There are conversations that cross the table at odd angles, there was a radio on announcing weather forecasts, there may have been a dog bark or gust of wind flap a curtain. It was active and alive with the clamour that people and food make together. 

I’m a solitary type really. I’m fine being on my own, but I do miss a crowded table. Even when you’re part of a couple you don’t have that. Even with a kid you don’t get that. You need multiples to have that. Recently, I’ve noticed the stillness of a Sunday morning. My neighbourhood is usually a riot of noise. Sirens, car horns, music from cars, the resonant rumble of a truck engine, people yelling to and fro, the squeal of tires, a helicopter overhead, the low whining roar of a streetcar, birds chirping, other critters cawing, things and people bumping up against the air, so I appreciate stillness when I feel it. Yet, often during meals, I play the radio, to simply hear people talking. It’s as if conversation is the soundtrack to food. Maybe all I need is to bake more potatoes.




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