Nostalgia and Food…

Tagged: mom | Related topics: , , , , , ,

The worst thing a cook can hear is “My Grandma used to make this recipe, can you make it like that?” I heard this truism last week from my boss. And why is this a bad thing to hear? Because no matter how great you make that caramel cake, or tamale or whatever, it will never make that person happy. Because they’re not looking for something that tastes like their Grandma’s cooking. They’re looking for the feelings associated with the situation they ate that food in.

People do it all the time. We think we miss an ex, we pine for them and think of all the things that make them wonderful. Then we see them and realize they aren’t anything we want. What we miss is feeling loved, or important or something else that relationship brought. Our brains aren’t built to make that distinction though, and so our emotions become totally entwined with the object, and we can’t separate it.

Nothing has a stronger memory than our senses. And since eating is a sensory experience,  it makes sense that we associate a lot of feelings with food. I know this is true for me. When I think about sopapillas, I’m not craving some fried bread with honey. I’m craving the feeling of having a special night with my family as a child. The rare Friday or Saturday night when we stayed up late, Mom cooked (after she had cleaned the whole kitchen from dinner) and we covered the table in sticky honey.  There is not a fried pastry in the world that could match up to that memory.  I made sopapillas for some friends a few weeks back and I was shocked that they didn’t do back-flips as they ate them. They had one or two and were done. It was like we were actually tasting different things.

I think that’s why I love trying new foods. You don’t know what to expect, and it’s all fresh. After that first time, you’ll always have something to reference it to, compare it with. The first time is pure, and you’re tasting it without judgment or expectation. I also love comfort food for the opposite reason. I love having the chance to travel back in time and remember something from the past. It feels magical that the taste of toasted sourdough with butter  takes me back to my grandparents kitchen. I can feel the table, see my Grandma’s delicate hands and smell the dish soap she always used.  My Grandparents have passed away, but because of my memory they’re never gone. And food is one of the ways I keep a link to them.

Maybe this will give some insight to people that don’t get why I talk about food all the time. I’m not talking about food, not really. I’m talking about comfort, and memory, and people and love. It’s a tool that works for me to connect with the world and people in it. If I’ve ever cooked for you, it’s because I care about you. Because I want to make a connection or create a memory with you.  That’s why giving Julia chocolate cake, making lasagna for Thomas or seeing my Mom’s face when she tastes potato soup I made makes me feel so content and happy. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.
M. F. K. Fisher