My house smells amazing right now. It’s because I’ve been experimenting with the fall spices all week: cinnamon, nutmeg, gloves, and ginger.
Smell is the sense most strongly associated with memory. When I smell ginger, I don’t think of gingerbread cookies or holiday mulled cider, but the spicy Korean dishes my mother and aunts and grandmother would cook every week. Or the ginger candies they would eat in the car on long road trips. My family loved its ginger.
Not me, though. I always resisted its spicy, medicinal taste. I was a picky eater, a willful only child, and there was no way I was going to eat something that came out of the ground looking like that, all knobbly and warty.
After several years on my own, carefully refining my taste and tasting everything I had resisted in my childhood, I found that I still didn’t like the taste of raw ginger. Still too spicy for my palate, and still strangely bitter. It reminded me of the medicinal Asian soups that my grandmother would force me to drink when I was sick, full of dried dates and spices and, if you will believe it, slivers of antlers. It reminded me of being miserable and feverish in bed.
Then I tried crystallized ginger and things changed. Boiled for nearly an hour before being saturated with sugar, nearly all of the bitterness of the ginger was gone, but a zingy spiciness remained, tamed by the sweetness of the sugar syrup. For several months, I would buy up bags of the stuff at Whole Foods before figuring out that it was so much cheaper to make it at home, and about as easy as boiling pasta.