Do you have food memories from your childhood days?
I remember waiting for the ice cream van when I was about seven. That melody still rings in my ear. The van stopped just outside our front door which meant I could sometimes slip out unnoticed with some of my pocket money to buy a raspberry ripple bar. It waswrapped in parchment paper, I don´t remember it being a brand. I loved the way the raspberry flavoured sirup marbled through the white, slightly soft ice cream.
I would sit on the garden wall and lick happily away, daydreaming as I often did. I have many other memories good and bad, like ruining a frying pan the first time I tried to cook something. Curiously, food memories seem to be particularly vivid, embedded in a situation that you can describe well. Somehow, they feel more evocative than other memories, don´t you agree?
There is a very good reason for that. Food memories engage all your senses, so when you are reminiscing and feel stimulated by such a memory, the effect is quite powerful. These memories come in layers: Sight, taste, noise, touch…
Food memories are not about hard facts, not even about the protective purposes they evolved from. It is what was going on when we were eating the food, that makes us feel, safe, loved, cared for and maybe even, wistful.
conditioned taste aversion
Have you ever eaten something that made you feel really bad, even sick?
This memory is extremely vivid and leads you to avoid eating that food for a long time, right? The actual name for this is “conditioned taste aversion.” This is designed to avoid you getting poisoned or sick. But it is also exactly this mechanism, which makes all food memories so markable. And we relish in the good ones. However, it is not just the food you remember is it? It´s the entire backdrop: Who was there? What were they doing? What were you doing? Where did it take place?
One of my favourite aunts (I had some choice) used to make the most incredible apple pies, that almost looked like top hats – the filling was so abundant. My best memories of these are from her flat in Las Palmas, where my aunt and uncle ran a very successful bar and restaurant. She would make the pies in the afternoon, and when visiting I would sit in the kitchen watching the oven, waiting for them to come out. I found it fascinating to watch the hats turn golden and release the most adorable waft of warm apples and cinnamon. When they were ready she sometimes let me have a piece and sat down for a few minutes, which meant something as she was always very busy. My memory is not just of the sumptuous apple pie, but of sitting with her in the kitchen, talking. On some evenings I was allowed to accompany my mum and her husband over to the restaurant. All the guests were crazy about these apple pies. As I am sure you can imagine, I have never been able to reproduce them.
This is the nostalgic aspect of food memories. It is also the reason why neuroscientists often use food to study its effects on us.
a mug of tea
You take a bite of something that reminds you of a taste you know, and suddenly all the feelings you felt then, come flooding in. Precisely so is how you get catapulted back to these comfort zones. I have been living in Germany for almost forty years now. (I can hardly believe that when I say it) These days I don´t generally drink black tea.
If I am feeling really down and want a quick fix, I make myself a mug of tea with milk and sugar. Germans don´t generally put milk in tea, and I don´t take sugar. However, when I used to visit my dad and step-mum on weekends, before going to bed we would have a cup of tea, a biscuit, and a few words to finish the day. I loved this ritual, more so in retrospect. This example also shows: When it comes to food memories we are not always talking about culinary revelations. Often quite the opposite. In this case – a tea bag in a mug with milk and sugar. That is not the fine art of teamaking.
And that is not what it´s about.
The word nostalgic is a composition of the Greek words: “nostos” meaning coming home, and algos meaning “ache” = an ache for homecoming. It is no secret that the Mediterranean countries have more reverence for their food and eating than we Northerners, on the whole, seem to.
There is a beautiful Spanish word “Sobremesa” literally – after the meal, but it means much more than that. It is a feeling of coming together through food and enjoying everybody’s company at the table. Remaining at the table after a meal and talking and laughing with one another. This whole situation is captured by this word. Do we have such a word?
Comfort food, is a well-known label of food these days. There are many recipe books filled with comfort food. A chicken broth, when you felt unwell, hot chocolate after a cold walk and many others I am sure you can think of.
This Phenomenon is particularly important for people who don´t live where they come from. Of which there are many. Comfort food is then home cooking. Faced with so many challenges in a new country, food can be a staple part of your identity.
I was lucky enough to be able to speak German when I arrived here as an Au-Pair girl in 1981. And you would think, the change from England to Germany may not have been so challenging. Of course, it is not like coming from Syria, where the culture is entirely different. But subtle differences can be a problem, too. I was often asked to prepare platters of food, that I had not made before. The results were anything but charming, at best improvised. On the other hand, when I made things like Shepard´s pie, they liked it and were surprised, because “the English can´t cook.” I missed things like shortbread and, funnily enough, what was sold in England as “German Cheesecake” which I also ate on the weekends at my dad´s. It was almost white with lots of raisins in it, and bore no resemblance in appearance or taste to a real German cheesecake.
A food memory can often work more wonders than prescribed medicine.
Apple and Pumpkin Pie
I am sorry to say, I don´t have my aunt´s recipe for her apple pies. So here is a video. I have tried this recipe and it works really well. Stick with it as the apple pie comes after the pumpkin pie. Have fun with it!
There are more really good recipes done in the same way to check out. Here you can find detialed instructions for the pies.
Only the Best Ingredients
Even though I said memories may not be about culinary highlights, quite often the ingredients were of good quality. Simply because there wasn´t the abundance of industrially processed foods as there are today. Of course there were things like Spagetti hoops, and angel delight, which I loved at the time. But there were more grocer´s shops and butchers and no discounters as we know them today at least not in Great Britain.
One of the most discouraging comments my daughter could make about the food I prepared, was: “It´s good, but it doesn´t taste like grandma´s.” You can imagine the feeling, I am sure. I put a lot of effort into trying to emulate Grandma´s recipes. I used the same ingredients, the same methods, but there was just something missing. Probably that special kind of love between grandparents and grandchildren that parents don´t get to look in on. That´s life!
Everything by Hand
There used to be a few gadgets around. I have the same brand of kitchen machine that my mother did. But there still wasn´t so much whizzing up in those days. The pots and pans were sturdy. You didn´t have a knife for every purpose, but a couple of good knives that didn´t go in dishwashers. Vegetables weren´t bought precut and packaged in plastic, you peeled and chopped them yourself. I know, I know – time. But actually, it doesn´t take long to peel and chop up a few vegetables. Pastry put together by hand tastes better than by machine. It´s the little things you taste.