Last Sunday I tasted something which was on a par with some of the greatest gourmet treats that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. For a second I thought it was all over and I would no longer care for fine wine and good dining. It was a freezing day and my sister and I were walking a 20 mile ‘challenge walk’ organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association. (We were the light-weights, there were plenty speeding past us doing the 30 mile event.) At the first checkpoint, 10 miles in, we were given a glass of blackcurrant juice and a digestive biscuit.
Rarely has anything tasted so sweet, so delicious, so nourishing and thirst quenching. Partially it was the effect of exercising outdoors on a cold day, every nerve was tingling and alive including, it seemed, my taste buds. But equally I have rarely been so conscious of food and fuel, the link between energy and eating. The sugar in the drink and biscuit seemed to race to my muscles (I’m not sure how long it takes sugar to convert to energy but surely longer than this) giving me an instant lift, helping me to bounce off for the next 10 miles.
I’ve had this experience before, also on a cold day, part-way through a day of strenuous hiking. A few years ago I went trekking in Nepal, its not the exquisite curries that stick in my mind or the yummy mo-mos, but a meal knocked up by the sherpas who were guiding me and the rest of a band of hapless foreigners along the way, just below the snow line. On camping stoves they knocked up a meal of chips, coleslaw and a jam sandwich, all served on the same plate. Again the cold, the hunger, the need for energy made this simple fair taste far more wonderful than it would in normal circumstances.
Usually, for me, food/cooking oscillates between necessity and absorbing hobby. I am aware of the need for a balanced diet, but often that can be reduced to a battle between excess calories and the love of good food. But that juice and biscuit, (just as the odd Nepalese thali had been) were a timely reminder of the correlation between nutrition and physical well-being. Just how profoundly what I eat affects the way I feel.
So while I once again have made a mental note to be more conscious of nutrition, I also realise that there are those rare moments in life when the most ordinary food will taste exquisite and nourishing in a way that the finest haute cuisine never can. And those odd moments will always creep up on me unexpectedly and must be cherished for their simple beauty, the taste of good food.