Thursday, December 9, 2021

Food Feelings / Small Bursts



Small Bursts

I am determined to give a name to my most treasured gustatory experience.

This is an effort to get what I want. My problem is that I know what I want, but there isn’t an adequate, efficient way to explain it. It’s a food texture and the most exemplary source is the blackberry. It involves a tension-pop and a gush. There is detonation of structure and then juice. It’s really the collision of two different moments: first a small round smoothness, second a rush of liquid. It’s more of a sensation than a texture.

The sensation is characteristic of: pomegranate seeds, tapioca balls in bubble tea, passionfruit, caviar (ughh/sorry), salmon roe, most roe though not masago roe, the smallest individual sections of citrus fruit which I once saw described as “juice-filled hairs,” quinoa, and chia seeds when I can manage to isolate one. Isolating a chia seed is like trying to catch a piece of confetti. So many, and so evasive!

For a moment, I thought alien eggs was the answer. As you may have already understood, alien eggs is gross. “No,” my friend Sophie said. Her judgment is to be trusted; she described “The Shape of You” as “icky” within a minute of hearing it for the first time. I did not tell her, but I will tell you that I first considered alien pimples, which is much worse, though still not as awful as “juice-filled hairs.”

There aren’t nearly enough words to describe the expansive and joyful experience of eating. We need to squeeze and eke words that exist for sufficient accuracy. Deciding whether or not to separate the broth and noodles for leftover ramen storage, my crush asked, “smooshie or not-so-smooshie?” Regarding the limits of language and sustenance, I still can’t believe we never solved the hot-spicy-hot-warm ordeal. But I’m onto new and weirder things.

Mining another language felt potentially fruitful. The word boba for bubble tea is a Chinese transliteration, not concerned with sounds but spelling. As a texture-eater, I am very concerned with the sounds of words, but not the spelling. I bet flavor-eaters are into spelling. Anyway, I looked up bubble in other languages. The Hausa word kumfa for bubble almost gets it. Same for the Finnish kupla. Kupla has the good hard pressure of the k, the dip of the u, the ascent of the up, the fall of the la. The Latvian word for gush, izplūst is tempting.

Another tempting word has already been hoisted by the trademarked language of American snackables: gusher. Though Gushers™ don’t have the right feeling. There isn’t quite a pop. (Popper, also could be a contender, had it not already also been claimed for other purposes.)

The blackberry vs. raspberry texture is helpful as a model. Raspberry sections aren’t as plump or divided. This doesn’t let raspberries burst quite dramatically enough. Blackberry sections are burst-ready! A blackberry is not a berry, botanically, for this very reason: it’s an aggregate fruit that is composed of many small drupelets.

Drupelets! My beloved. Aggregates of drupelets. My heart bursts. Drupaceous is a word, but unfortunately, it is a bland reference to any old drupe (peach, plum, cherry).

A suddenness is crucial. It’s the satisfaction of popping bubble wrap but edible; resistance and then not. It’s a release of tension. I saved a draft of this as “bursties” but I knew it wasn’t right. It’s too explosive, it implies a rupture and a violence. There is a softness to the feeling, though it is clearly delineated. It’s bubble-ish, though juicy, not airy.

The threshold of the sensation is the best part, the tense promise of juiciness. It’s a boundary-crosser, whole then collapsed, and effusive. Pomegranates, which each contain exactly 840 seeds, are particularly satisfying regarding this withholding promise. This is due to the strength of the membrane of pomegranate’s arils. Arils are the fleshy appendage of a seed. On the pomegranate, arils are shiny, tough ruby-colored membranes filled with juice. I’ve seen them described as having a “squirting texture,” which is not wrong.

Figuring this out has mostly tended to veer towards the erotic/porny. It keeps reminding me of Allison Janney’s character in 10 Things I Hate About You describing an arousal as “engorged,” “tumescent.” In Sophie’s words: “icky.”

We can try to make it clinical. What we’re talking about, scientifically, is similar to turgor pressure. Turgor pressure is the force within a cell that pushes against the membrane of the cell wall. I like a high turgor pressure. The feel of “containment by an expansive force”! Sometimes a growing root plant cell can have a pressure that’s three times that of a car tire! It’s how they can push through asphalt. But if you think for one moment I could call this whole thing “turgid,” I wonder if you have even adequately loved the submissive squish of a salmon roe droplet.

This poem I have affection for, “Eating the Avocado” by Carrie Fountain, presses on language’s failures to describe anything and discusses a baby’s first food. It ends with this line: “My heart did burst.” We might not get to the accuracy of describing things, but we are tasting them. I haven’t figured out my word, but I feel on the edge of it, the anticipatory pre-release part. It’s on the tip of my tongue, I’m not quite ready or able to say it, still holding onto the juiciness.

Now I know that I’ve never described
anything, not one single thing, not
the flesh of the avocado which darkens
so quickly, though if you scrape
what’s been exposed to the air it’s new-green
beneath like nothing ever happened.
I want to describe this evening, though
it’s not spectacular. The baby babbling
in the other room over the din
and whistle of a football game, and now
the dog just outside the door, scratching,
rattling the tags on her collar, the car
going by, far away but loud, a car without
a muffler, and the sound of the baby
returning again, pleasure and weight.
I want to describe the baby. I want to describe
the baby for many hours to anyone
who wishes to hear me. My feelings for her
take me so far inside myself I can see the pure
holiness in motherhood, and it makes me
burn with success and fear, the hole her
coming has left open, widening. Last night
we fed her some of the avocado I’ve just
finished eating while writing this poem.
Her first food. I thought my heart might burst,
knowing she would no longer be made
entirely of me, flesh of my flesh. Startled
in her amusing way by the idea of eating,
she tried to take it in, but her mouth
pushed it out. And my heart did burst.


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