Tongues 'R' Us
Thursday, August 6, 1998
For a devoted acolyte of culinary evangelism, life has its rewards. Sometimes they come as gifts: a bottle of garlic wine, a charming new apron brightly printed with what appears to be indelible splashes of beef gravy announcing Eats-R-Us, cross-stitched tea towels that profess an enduring fondness for Intercourse, Pennsylvania...All of these gestures leave me deeply touched.
But the latest tribute is especially moving, held in high esteem for its remarkable educational propensity. As a recent recipient of an Incredible Growing Tongue, I was humbled to learn the extraordinary properties of this vastly versatile organ. It was an odyssey that began by closely following the tongue-growing instructions:
Put your tongue in a large jar, bowl or sink. Now remove it and put in your Growing Tongue instead. Fill the container with cool water. Be sure the container is big enough to give your Growing Tongue room to grow. It will take about 72 hours for your Growing Tongue to reach its full size. To shrink your Growing Tongue, remove it from the water; it can be shrunk and grown over and over. Growing Tongue is non-toxic, but don''t eat it.
I was suspended for three days in watchful fascination as the small eraser-like object, no bigger than the tip of a human thumb, steadily engorged itself, slurping up ordinary tap water until it almost filled a standard household-size sink basin. Aside from awakening me in the middle of the night with splashing sounds from the kitchen, the experiment was a raging success: The life-like model reached its full size on schedule, almost a full six inches long and of stout girth, radiating a bouncing, healthy pink glow.
Carefully removing the Incredible Growing Tongue to a cake plate for closer observation revealed all the artful nuances of the organ we so continuously and perfunctorily engage, caught up in the busy-ness of our day-to-day lives. This is the muscle, after all, that not only allows us the gift of taste, but the capability also to speak and swallow.
The owner''s manual handily mapped my new friend''s network of taste buds that act as the barometer of pleasure or offense to the palate, the shrewd papillae that will decide the ultimate fate of every chef wanna-be. Clustered in realistic groups and arranged in a north, south, east and west topography, the map key offered startling revelations.
The four most identifiable taste sensations are synchronized to their own receiving areas of this tender, moist terrain. Sweet tastes are most acute at the southernmost tip of its trajectory, with bitter tastes registering across the opposite end. Salty tastes are detected on the east and west, right next door to sweet territory. And sour receptors sound the alarm up and down both coasts to create an incredibly ingenious cartography unequaled even by Rand McNally.
More happy news is the organ''s unceasing efforts at regenerating itself, craftily bestowing us new taste buds every 10 days--an especially generous gift to those who go around sticking their tongue willy-nilly into steaming liquids. The bad news is that we only get until about age 45 before our taste buds begin to falter in production and lose their acuity. Which is why some octogenarians are frequently observed unloosing sugar dispensers onto plates of spaghetti in an effort to amp up the flavor.