Friday, September 14, 2007

Argan Oil

When we were small, my mother, like responsible parents are supposed to, kept her vitamins on one of the highest shelves in the kitchen, in a closed cupboard. The idea, I'm sure, was to keep it where she could get at it, but where we could not.

Trouble was, my brother and I were little monkeys. Who would taste nearly anything.

I remember standing on the counter, pulling various jars down. And we tasted them all. But the only one that we didn’t spit out was vitamin E. I don’t know if it still is, but back then vitamin E was oil, packed in a casing that was a cross between dried-up Jello and plastic. And yes, many people would argue that even non-dessicated varieties of jello have a distinct plasticky taste. However, since Jello was verboten in our house (as was any cereal that listed sugar as an ingredient), really, anything vaguely reminiscent of Jello was prized by my brother and myself. The capsules had a mouthfeel (not a word I would have used at five) that we loved. And both of us enjoyed the way they’d burst when you finally chomped down on them, and the flavor of the strange, nutty oil inside. Loved it. And because we put them back (and probably more because she had four kids in school and was running marathons and in general keeping crazy-busy), I don’t think my mom ever realized why her vitamin E ran out so fast. There were lots of things in her life that she had to keep track of; keeping track of the level of vitamin E capsules was just not on the radar. And who would think, “hmmm, the vitamin E seems to run out faster than the rest. I wonder if the younger kids are snacking on it when I’m supervising the older kids mowing the lawn/raking leaves/shoveling snow?”

This may seem to have little to do with the topic at hand: argan oil.
My mom, a little while ago, bought me a bottle of argan oil. It was incredibly sweet of her. My husband and I went to Morocco with my parents not quite a decade ago, when I was pregnant with my boy. On one part of the trip, at the end, we all decided we could use a couple of relaxing days and went to Essaouira. Actually, we stayed in a place outside of Essaouira, which turned out to have no electricity at all (and was charming in pretty much every detail except the fact they didn't have a wood-fired water heater) . On the drive, we saw argan trees. Goats climb into them (according to Wikipedia, particularly in the area near Essaouira) to try and eat the nuts. It was charming, and a bit improbable sounding “Hey, check out the goat climbing that tree!” Apparently, argan trees are sort of the Joshua tree of that part of the world- they can only be found there and are uniquely adapted to that Southwest Morocco (although looking at a map, Essaouira looks, well, central west. anyway). That’s a long digression, even for me. My mom’s gift was a nice reminder of a wonderful trip, and, as I learned, not cheap. Argan oil runs about $40 a bottle.

Argan oil, like many nut oils, does not keep for long. Once you open it, you should have a bunch of things you want to use it for, and go to town.

I opened mine on Tuesday. I decided to substitute it for olive oil (in a salad), and went ahead and opened it. I tasted a drop of it from the spoon after I’d poured it into the salad. It was, as billed in, nutty and complex. But there was something about it that had a whiff of the forbidden to it, and it tasted so... familiar. Deeply familiar. But I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I shrugged it off and assumed that I had tasted it in a dish in Morocco.

Last night, however, I remembered. It tasted like my mom’s vitamin E capsules. And what it brought back, as a memory, was kneeling on the speckled white kitchen counter with my brother, silently snacking on vitamin E capsules.
Note: Wikipedia also mentions that argan oil suddenly became fashionable in about 2001-2002. It's nice to see that I continue to pick up on food trends well after they're done. Speaking of long-done ingredient trends, we're nearly out of pink salt, which, when Curly is tired, is a sure-fire (if over-priced) way to get her to happily eat her dinner. Just sprinkle a little pink salt on it, with her watching, and she'll chow down.


AJD said...

Amusingly enough, same mother hadn't noticed that the Flintstones vitamins (also 'safely' on the highest cupboard shelf, in that house near the sink) disappeared far faster than two normal (i.e. non-monkey) girls should've been making them disappear. Gee, two kids, a dog, a cat, a f/t teaching job, and probably at that time pursuing a masters degree - can't think why she wouldn't have noticed ;-)

Meg said...

Mmm, Flintstone vitamins. I'd forgotten all about those. We ate those, too, but since she didn't eat those, we got busted for that (with no candy in the house, it was as close as we could come). I think the vitamin E snacking continued on un-noticed, though.