I was one of those kids who was very fussy about what he ate. If it had an odd texture or taste, if it smelled odd, even if it looked different, I would not touch it.
“Do you like green eggs and ham?”
“I do not like them Sam-I-Am!”
At times something a bit different would appear on the plate in front of me and I would start my whining.
“I don’t like it.”
“I don’t want it!”
Getting angry didn’t work. I was stubborn enough to go without if I had to, as my rather skinny frame showed. Besides, My Mum remembered one time when one of my friend’s Dad forced him to eat the white of an egg he had left on his plate, despite his quite literally gagging over each mouthful. She said she would never do something like that to me.
No I was a lot luckier to have my Mum than she was to have me.
She did try bribery. If I would at least try – by which the legal definition was, “On two separate occasions, a reasonably sized forkful, chewed at least six times and swallowed.” – then I would earn myself fifty cents. Even with this and other little tricks, my range of acceptable foods remained limited to a fairly small selection.
When I was about eight years old, my family was fortunate enough to take a cruise on an Italian luxury liner from Mombasa to Venice around the Cape of Good Hope. The first port of call after leaving Mombasa was Durban, about 1,800 nautical miles and seven days of sailing away. Nobody expected this to be a problem, I mean after all I did eat Spaghetti Bolognese.
Unfortunately, spag bol was just a little too ordinary for the chefs on this marvellous ship, and as the days went by, I turned up my nose at ravioli, carbonara, tortellini and as wide a selection of marvellous Italian dishes as you can imagine.
My Mum was beside herself. She had words with the kitchen staff, who very kindly tried to present me with something I’d recognise and eat, but always it was just that little bit too foreign; the pasta wasn’t thin enough, or the sauce smelt too spicy. I wouldn’t even touch the bread because it was a different shape.
For the entire week we were at sea, I didn’t eat a single mouthful, and the moment we docked in Durban, Mum rushed into town to buy all the things she knew I would eat. By the time she made it back to the ship, so the story goes, my brother had persuaded me to take a mouthful of ravioli, assuring me that it tasted just like the spaghetti I was used to. I decided then that I did like it after all and I caused no further trouble, or at least none more than usual, for the rest of the trip.
One thing Mum used to serve up every now and again was baked apple, and I definitely didn’t like it. Two tries and fifty cents earned, I did not like the slimy texture and I decidedly couldn’t stand the tart flavour of the apples, even with several spoons full of sugar to mask it. Somewhat as a result of this I made up my mind that I would not be fooled into trying apple pie either. I mean after all isn’t it just baked apple wrapped up in pastry? What difference could that make?
Every time the apple pie came out I was offered some, and every time I refused.
“Suite yourself,” I was told. “All the more for us.”
And I would go without, right up until a certain day when I was about thirteen and I decided to give it a try.
This has since become one of my Mum’s favourite stories. The way my expression changed on taking that first bite and my tearful eyes turned up to my Mum. The quivering pout on my lips as I somewhat tremulously asked, “You mean this is what I’ve been missing all this time?”
I’m middle aged now and possess an equatorial bulge that is testament to my changed attitude to food. I no longer need that fifty cent bribe to persuade me to try something new, although in a lot of cases I would never willingly do so again, but there’s always the possibility of finding another experience like that first mouthful of apple pie.
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