I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice. Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security. But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon. It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times. Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak. I can’t even imagine eating one.
This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.) Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili. They disgust me. They smush in my mouth.
And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up. I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table. “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.
As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them. Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.
When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced. That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries. Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting. If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it. Don’t like it cooked? Try it raw. Don’t like it boiled? Broil it instead.
I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule. If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it. Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game. Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.
Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.
Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.