Today I finished Molly Birnbaum’s memoir, Season to Taste. I enjoyed it as much as I’d hoped. It made me think about my big nose (thanks Dad!), my favourite kitchen scents, my most powerful food memories, and how most days, I take all of these for granted. (It also made me think I might need to change my name to Molly in order to be a great food writer. Further evidence). Molly’s story is quite something. After an accident when she was hit by a car while jogging, Molly lost her sense of smell. Any food person would understand why this would be a profound loss, since taste is inextricably linked to smell. Add to this fact that at the time, Molly dreamed of becoming a chef and was planning on pursuing this dream at the Culinary Institute of America. She put all of this on hold and shifted her focus to learning everything she could about her condition, all the while desperately hoping that she could recover even some of what she had lost. Her book is her account of this amazing journey back to taste. I guarantee that Molly’s story will teach you a great deal about the science of scent and the power of this sense to influence your perception of the world, your relationships with others, and your enjoyment of life. One of the most impressive aspects of the book is Molly’s talent for making the science accessible (and interesting) to non-scientific folk, and her storytelling is charming and honest and evocative.
From a pie-lover’s perspective, this memoir has a sweet pie story close to the beginning. Molly writes about her memory of the “baby pies” her mother and her grandmother used to make with the scraps of pie dough leftover after rolling out the crust. The scraps would get baked up with butter and cinnamon and sugar. I remember my grandmother doing the same thing. She’d roll out the bits she hadn’t used and cut them into circles with a glass, or else just leave them as they were. She’d arrange all of oddly shaped pieces on a baking sheet and maybe brush them with a little butter and dust them with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. My sister and I would stick around in the kitchen, hovering, until they came out of the oven and then we’d eat them fast, not even letting them cool for fear the other would get more. My sister and I couldn’t agree on a lot of foods when we were kids, but those sugary pie cookie bits were worth fighting for.
Molly follows the baby pie story with another about making an apple pie in Namibia. It was her first attempt at pie. It has a happy ending. This story is perfect proof of how pie can be healing and restorative, both in the making and the eating. It reminds how pie is about more than its simple ingredients. Pie is hopeful. Pie is community. Pie matters.
Molly’s book is full of goodness and sweet and truthful observations about food and life. Like pie, I plan to share my copy with someone soon.