"Season to Taste" by Molly Birnbaum ~ a Review

A pleasant thing happened to me the other day.  Let me explain.  For some months I have been a really pathetic member of an online book club called Kitchen Reader whose members review books about cooking (not so much cookbooks as food writing).  The reason I have been so poor at this is all the books I have attempted to get hold of have been published in America and either very expensive or take ages to get here.  (I’m waiting for one now and it’s been quite a while.)

A lady called Sarah contacted me on behalf of the club and asked if I still wanted to be a member bearing in mind my non existent input and I explained the situation.  Guess what she did!!  Only went and sent me a book she had finished reading all the way from Hong Kong, that’s what!  What a lovely lady and what an excellent book.  

“Season to Taste ~ how I lost my sense of smell and found my way” is Molly Birnbaum’s account of her sudden and complete loss of her sense of smell due to a traffic accident.  At the time of the accident she was working in kitchens and about to start training in earnest at The Culinary Institute of America.  She writes of how it slowly dawned of her that she couldn’t smell, of her worries and fears and the implication it had on her life including her exciting career choice.  It isn’t a tear jerker tho', its fascinating.

In an attempt to understand her situation (and possibly to write a book!) Molly speaks to neurologists (including Oliver Sacks), perfumiers, attends perfumery lessons in Grasse, speaks to artists who create scent collages and symphonies and to flavourists who create tastes by mixing different chemicals to reproduce natural flavours or even create new ones.  Flavourists are essential to the processed food business.  

I find it hard to imagine a life without the sense of smell because I think it often runs in the background of our lives informing us without our actually noticing.  Since reading this book I often have a good old sniff to see what I can smell!  Sometimes I am surprised at what is going on olfactorily without my being consciously aware of it.  At the same time it is easy for me (after cheffing for over 30 years) to realise how great a loss it would be in the kitchen.

Happily Molly gets her sense of smell back, if that isn’t too much of a spoiler, but her journey makes for a fascinating read.

Season to Taste was recommended to Kitchen Reader by Katherine Martinelli whose interesting blog I shall be having a wander round shortly.  

Two Coincidences …

1.   Sarah from Kitchen Reader is not alone in her loveliness.  A day or two before I received the above from Hong Kong I received a surprise book from my friend Bob in New Hampshire, the U.S. of A.  Yes he is a friend but he’s never done this before!  He had finished the book; “Spice: The History of a Temptation” by Jack Turner, and thought, quite rightly, that I would like it.  I will let you know more about it soon in a separate post (which I have now written - here!)

2.   “Season to Taste” mentions Jack Turner's “Spice” ~ I had never heard of either of these books, received both as gifts from foreign parts in the same week and they are inter-related.

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Jenny Eatwell said...

How lovely! It is when things like that happen, that quite restores one's jaded view of the human race. The book sounds - as you say it is - fascinating. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for it, or maybe even "sniff it out!". Ha! See what I did, there? lol

Jen (emsun.org) said...

Sarah is a very lovely person. :)

sarah said...

Yay, I am so happy that you had a chance to read the book and enjoyed it! Thanks for posting - I've added your link to the round-up of reviews of Season to Taste. And I look forward to hearing about Spice; sounds intriguing!

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