The Secret Origins of the Persnickety Palate

Hard boiled egg yolks

I remember making deviled eggs for the first time when I was a little kid. I was an incredibly picky eater (what? really?), but deviled eggs were definitely on my list of eatables. So at some point I decided to try making them myself. I knew where my mom’s recipe was, so I pulled it down while the eggs boiled (20 minutes at a hard boil, eek! No wonder the yolks always turned gray around the edges.) and opened it to the right page.

I knew deviled eggs had mustard in them because I had watched my mom make them before. It gave me pause when I first found out, because I don’t use mustard as a condiment, even today, but the taste of the eggs was so wonderfully creamy that I just tried not to think about the contamination while I was eating them. But it was a different story when I went to make the recipe myself.

I happily sliced eggs and popped out the very hard-boiled yolks with a spoon, mashing them up with Miracle Whip, cider vinegar and salt. I pulled the squeeze bottle of mustard out of the refrigerator and spent a long while contemplating whether or not I should leave it out. Would it really make any difference if I did? In the end, I convinced myself that the mustard was in the recipe for a purpose (though what that might be I couldn’t imagine). I made myself squeeze a blob of day-glo yellow mustard into the measuring spoon, accompanied by a trickle of watery liquid that made my nose wrinkle in disgust, and plopped it into the egg yolks. I stirred it through as quickly as possible to put the whole traumatic experience behind me, scanned the yellow mush for heterogeneous streaks of mustard, and stuffed them back in the whites with a sprinkle of ancient paprika for the final touch. Cautiously nibbling my first bite, I was pleased to discover that they tasted just like my mom’s deviled eggs, wonderfully creamy and salty with an edge of vinegar tang and not a bit of mustard taste to be found.

Deviled eggs

That moment, I believe, was the origin of the Persnickety Palate. Even though I have continued to be—and am to this day—a very picky eater, that moment was the first time I willingly put an ingredient I didn’t like into a recipe and had faith that I might still be able to enjoy the outcome. It was a small step because I already knew I liked the taste of deviled eggs, but the fact that I was making them myself—controlling the amount of the abhorrent ingredient and the ultimate flavor of the dish—gave me the confidence to proceed. And that is what the past few years of cooking have been about for me.

Not that I am always happy with the outcome of my personal culinary adventures—there have been many meals that I ended up eating only a few bites of. But I have also taught myself not to be afraid of trying so many new foods that the successes are totally worth the disappointments. Among the ingredients I am no longer afraid to use? Mustard, of course. I don’t use the day-glo sort in a squeeze bottle, just Dijon and whole grain; and I still don’t use it as a condiment. But it frequently pops up in many other capacities in my kitchen, and I think I am a better cook because of it. I might even have to try making my own mustard one of these days.

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