We all know that food memories are surprisingly strong. The smell of something cooking can transport us to a past moment in time. A mention of an ingredient can make us remember a special meal at a great restaurant, and we can all probably name our top three favorite foods from our childhood. (For me, that would be fluffernutter sandwiches, chicken in a basket, and chocolate covered graham crackers)
But what is most fascinating is that food memories link us directly to certain people – usually other Real Women, both past and present. For example, a bowl of grapes. Instantly I think of the multiple road trip car rides when we were kids, and mom would pack a bag of grapes as a trip snack. In her ever practical mind, she thought it was a great way to “wet our whistles” without loading the kids up with liquids that would require multiple stops at the next available restrooms. Nothing says snack desperation like a warm bag of grapes that sat perched on the dashboard before getting passed around. I told this story to a friend, and she said now she thinks of me and my mom every time she eats grapes.
The food-to-person memories are usually very specific. Ironically it usually isn’t the fancy, complicated meals we remember. Sure, you may have an Aunt that could cook an amazing Beef Bourguignon, or a Grandma who spent all day creating the perfect sauce. But it tends to be the more simple yet comforting food that sticks in our heads, hearts, and taste buds. Oatmeal raisin cookies make me think of a woman who used to care for my Grandmother, and her cookies were always the best. When asked what her secret was, she said in a whisper with a wink “I put the raisins in upside down.” A concoction of creamed corn and hot dogs makes me think of mom and dad getting ready to go out, because that was a quick meal mom would prep for us before they left. Salmon on the grill links me to my Dad and Stepmother – yet it is raspberry sorbet that is my son’s immediate link to Grammy. When I cook with peppers and onions, I think of my sister who said all good meals start with that as a base.
It isn’t even necessarily expert cooking skills that conjure up these beloved partnerships. When anyone mentions cupcakes, I think of one of my BFFs who loves them, and with whom I have had serious ratings discussions on various samples. When I shop for bananas, I think of my brother who completely believed that the best tasting bananas were long, straight and slightly green. Another of my BFFs is a great cook, yet my food connection to her is the massive Reese’s Pieces Sundaes we shared in our teens (oh, how I miss those days.)
Most amazing is how our Fond Food & People Memories last for generations, and stretch to people beyond those originally involved. Similar to how my grape story now sticks with someone who never had the pleasure of meeting my mom, the food connections not only continue, but grow. Whenever we make tuna sandwiches in our house, either my husband or I say “toast it lightly and spread it thinly” because that’s how his Stepmom (a woman I never met) used to do it. I felt a surge of pride when I made some Italian Wedding Soup that apparently rivaled that of his best friend’s mother, another memory from his youth. We are confident that in our family, future generations will grow up eating “Queen Mary’s”, a creation my mother developed as a child involving an english muffin, strawberry jam and bacon, and knowing the story behind it. If we all stop to think about the various connections of confections we have in our lives, the threads, or shall I say ingredients, that weave the treat tales is fascinating. And it always, one way or another, leads back to a person who had something special to share.
This weekend as I was trying out new recipes, and making some of my old standby’s like chocolate chip cookies, I thought about how when our older boys come to visit, they tend to request certain foods that they seem to associate with being home. As time progresses, those associations and memories just naturally happen. I wondered what the Fond Food Memories will be for my son, and grandchildren, that they will identify with me. Will it be for my chopped salads? My comfort food? My baked goods? Or something as funny as road trip grapes? Only time will tell.
We all like to think we will leave some lasting legacy for future generations. Some big thing, like a published work, a business venture, or even a financial estate. Yet to me, “legacy” means anything that comes with a good story, and creates feelings of pride, happiness, comfort, and wanting to make the world a better place in memory of a loved one. It doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be something wonderful that keeps living on through future generations.
Like a warm oatmeal cookie with upside down raisins.