I work in wine. It’s a business where a lot of hypotheticals are thrown around.
“What would you have with this?”
“What’s your favorite this, and least favorite that?”
“If you were stuck on a desert island…”
These questions are a way of getting to know someone’s palate. A big favorite is,
“What was your epiphany wine?”
Essentially asking, what wine ignited your passion for it. It’s a fun question as there are no right or wrong answers. No matter your choice there’s always a fun story or explanation behind it.
What I am surprised by is that this question doesn’t seem to percolate into the broader category of food. Why don’t we ask each other (and perhaps more importantly ourselves),
“What was your epiphany food?”
My mom stocked the house with very safe and healthy foods. There wasn’t soda but lots of seltzer, no cookies but sometimes graham crackers, and all the generic dry cereal the health-food store could conjure. She may have been overzealous but I don’t mind having a soft spot for fruit leathers and raw almonds.
She was also fond of ordering things from catalogs. An activity that was quite popular in the 90’s and, for the most part, stayed there. My mother ordered clothes, jewelry, even ordered a skateboard for me, all through the glossy pages that came in the mail. Trying clothes on at home and sending them back if there was even the slightest issue with them. This seems much more common nowadays but what can I say, she was ahead of her time. My sister and I joked that what she really loved wasn’t the clothes but the ritual of returning them. However, there was one thing that she sent away for that always stayed, peaches.
Every August my mother received peaches from Oregon. Which always seemed strange to me as she liked to buy as local as possible. (Again, ahead of her time.) She’d only go one town over for burgers and seltzer because the general store had great discounts when you bought them in bulk. (Ohh how the bubbles flowed at our BBQ nights.)
Sure enough, one August afternoon I’d come home soaked with sweat (we lived on a very steep hill, on top of other steep hills) and on the table I’d find two cardboard boxes lined with stiff foam and twelve peaches cradled inside each.
The peaches were a painting come to life. Hues of red, orange, and yellow swirled on the surfaces of these tender orbs. They’d be topped with adorable and almost identical stems that suggested the trees gave them away willingly. The short fuzz around each one made them a joy to roll in your hand or press against your cheek. But a peach’s greatest allure has always been its aroma. Smelling a peach when it’s at peak ripeness is ensorcelling. A deep breath in will make the peach seem naked, its flesh gleaming in the light. As if you’ve already taken a bite, drenched your lips in its juices, and filled your nostrils with its musk. We rarely had dessert in the house, but in August, we had peaches.
After dinner I’d rinse a peach, grab a paper towel, and run outside. I always ate the peach too fast. (Though maybe there isn’t a slow enough speed to completely satisfy.) My front teeth would tear away the flesh and let the excess juices drip down my chin to the grass (and whatever lucky bugs that were there). Halfway through, looking at the pit, I often thought,
“What could be better than this?”
The strength of this memory has never lost its potency, and I hope it never does. It changed how I look at food forever. So I urge you to stop and smell the fruit stands. Let your nose bathe in the warm summer smell of peaches and remember, it is the often the simple foods we take for granted that are ripe for epiphany.