Kim was an ambitious budding journalist. While still in grade 12 she created a TV program to be aired over the local cable network. Being a cable show, it was seen by a dozen viewers at best, but Kim learned how to produce a show.
The show was about cooking. She asked her school friends to recommend mothers or grandmothers who had special cooking skills, and then she interviewed them (us) to choose appropriate guests for her show. When Kim called me I offered to demonstrate, on air, the making of cardamom coffeecakes. Great idea, said Kim.
She told me how to find the studio, and we chose a date and a time. But that was pretty much the extent of the background information Kim gave me.
It wasn't as if I'd never made these coffeecakes; these were the ones I distributed to neighbours and friends at Christmas. Nonetheless, I made a couple of batches in advance, to get the recipe nailed down and review the timing. Then I showed up at the studio with coffeecake ingredients in one arm and a collection of coffeecakes-in-production in the other. Let's see. I needed a bowl for mixing up a new batch. I needed a bowl that contained an already risen batch (which I would shape into braids as the world watched). And I needed some finished and baked coffeecakes.
What did I wear? Did I put on make-up (or was I hoping there would be a make-up person at the studio?). I remember fretting about all this, but I don't remember the decisions.
Finally Kim and I were under the lights, my belongings arrayed on the table. I had envisioned myself alone with the camera (after Kim's introduction), during which time I would enlighten the viewers about all aspects of yeast breads. Well, I was alone for a while, but I was so efficient that everything was finished in the first fifteen minutes of the thirty-minute show. I had mixed everything that needed to be mixed, shaped everything that n eeded shaping, and shown all the finished braids I had brought to show. There now remained fifteen minutes of dead time to fill. Kim, who had been watching from off-camera, stepped in, as any good producer/host should, and began asking questions.
Those who know me know that I don't like doing research. In fact, it usually escapes me that any research is required. So when Kim asked, "So, Ann, what is cardamom?" my mind went blank. What, indeed? I knew that it was a relative of ginger (or so I remembered reading). So I said that. "It's a relative of ginger," I said. Kim looked at me, awaiting more details, but I had none to give her. Where did it come from? How did it come to be a staple spice of Scandinavian cooking? These were questions I had failed to prepare for. My hands twitched, vainly seeking some other table-task that I could perform to avoid further questions.
Kim was desperate to lengthen the conversation. So she picked up my jar of cardamom and said, "Oh, let me smell it and taste it, to see what cardamom is like."
She unscrewed the lid and put it to her nose and sniffed. "H'm-m," she said. "It doesn't have much of a smell at all."
Now, anyone who has smelled cardamom knows this isn't true.
Kim tapped a little cardamom into the palm of her hand and touched it with her tongue. "H'm-m," she said, "there's not a lot of flavour here."
Now, anyone who has tasted cardamom knows this isn't true.
I didn't know what to say. Was Kim deficient in taste buds and smelling receptors? As it turned out, she wasn't. As it turned out, my jar of cardamom was as old as the hills, and IT was deficient in both smell and taste. But at the time I didn't know that. I just knew that Kim and I had different experiences with cardamom, and I didn't know where to go with this information. On camera.
I lamely agreed with Kim, "Oh, it's a subtle flavour. It's easy to see why you can't smell or taste much. Yes, you're absolutely right. Cardamom is virtually odor-free and taste-free. Yes, indeedy, Kim, there's no reason at all to use cardamom in a recipe except just to be able to include the word in the title. It's a very pretty word, isn't it? Cardamom? Some people spell it with an "n", as in "cardamom," but it's really cardamom. With an "m" at the end. Not an "n". I didn't really say this, of course, but I did spout a lot of nonsense during the long minutes we lived through as the clock ran out. Kim joined in with her own version of the agreed-upon insipidity of cardamom.
And eventually we reached the end of the show.
The embarrassing part is that even thirty years later people (in the dozens) are still seeing reruns of these moments of public ignorance, since local cable shows are endlessly recycled. How many insomniacs have watched me blunder my way through this interview over the years? I hope they focus on the coffeecakes, which are quite good, rather than on my ignorance. And that when they make their own coffeecakes, they smell the ground cardamom before they use it, and run out and buy a new jar if theirs has no aroma and no taste.
Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor