I read an interview last week with a cook (sorry, name escapes me…) who had, temporarily, thank goodness, lost her sense of smell. She commented on how sharpened her other ‘cooking’ senses had become while she was smell-less – including her hearing.
Having initially raised an eyebrow, I realised that she was entirely right. I don’t actually need to look to see how fast or slow my onions are browning – I can ‘hear’ how they are doing from the timbre of their sizzle. Likewise, the simmering – or boiling – pot both have their own tones. And as for the freshness of a bean… Just listen to the sharp snap of a fresh bean as you break it as opposed to the dull plop of an old one.
I suppose that part of it comes from forty odd years of hanging around kitchens, cooking pots and chopping boards. You develop a sixth sense about an ingredient and how it is going to behave. (One of my favourite rites is buying fresh green leaves – spinach, lettuce, coriander, chard – which have been wilting in the sun or on a dry shelf, plunging them into a large sink full of cold water and watching them suck in the moisture and gradually fill out and perk up back to their fresh, bouncy and flavourful selves.)
This sixth sense as regard foods is particularly well developed in multiple-food allergics, many of whom have adopted dowsing as a way to channel their subliminal reactions to a food and assess whether or not it is safe for them to eat. Regular dowsers, of course, dowse not only for food but for everything in their daily life and many will swear by the technique as being the only thing that gets them through the day without disaster.
I have never managed to really get into dowsing (maybe my need has never been great enough) but I do believe that it is a wonderfully useful skill if you have any sensitivity problems and, I understand, that it is not that difficult to master. If you are interested there are a couple of articles on the FoodsMatter site about dowsing: one by Chris Johnson who was, in 2005 when he wrote the article, a director of the British Society of Dowsers, and one by Nicky Greenham, who suffers from food intolerance and MCS and runs www.mcs-aware.org plus some tips from John Scott about dowsing tools.