Memories by mouth
April 17th, 2012
When there is a change of season in the air there are fleeting moments of memories. I think it is a magical cocktail of smells, temperatures, breezes, and other sensual contact that brings memories of past seasons rushing back – and then they are gone again. I get these little rushes of nostalgia and they sometimes leave me feeling a little sad or dreamy and then the moment is gone.
Food can perform similarly clever tricks and I am always impressed by how clearly my brain involuntarily pinpoints a moment from the past via my tastebuds. I am grateful for chance to relive happy times and some of my articles have come about as a result.
I would love to hear if anyone out there has experienced this taste bud- time traveling. Maybe you could share your memories of food by sending me recipes or anecdotes. I suspect I’m not the only woman in the world who bites into a mulberry and finds herself in a childhood garden, golden with September warmth and sunshine. Though it wasn’t always rosy:
From macaroni to mulberries – first appeared in Shropshire life Magazine
When I was about eleven I discovered that romantic novels often had sex in them. Often the writing quality was what you might call vacuous but happily words with even a very tenuous link to the ‘act’ would leap out of even the lengthiest paragraph and it was as much as I could do to bother with the bits in between. Thirty years and four children later have broadened my interests and I haven’t read a novel containing the phrase ‘with a brutal urgency’ for nearly all that time. Now I’m most likely to perk right up if the author lets their characters talk about what they are eating. Foody details add so much when well written . Smells and sounds are wonderful tools for the author but nothing beats the power of taste buds for instant reaction or a trip down memory lane.
Take the mention of macaroni cheese for example. A humble and underused literary device I expect you’ll agree. Nevertheless, for me, the memories conjured up by these two words are ambrosial thanks to Karen Rout’s mum.
When I was seven I went for my first sleepover and I have no difficulty in transporting myself back to the happy moment when my friend’s lovely mother spooned great gloops of this new delight into my brown earthenware bowl. It was crispy, steaming , and perfect and the face I looked up into to ask for more became the beatific image of an angel
Sadly this deliciously cheesy moment was never to be repeated.
‘Why do we never have macaroni cheese at home?’ I asked my mother as soon as I got back into her Simca.
Years later I discovered the reason we never, ever had macaroni cheese was because in the very early days of their nineteen-fifties marriage my mother had made it for supper and my father had sat in it. I the days when they still sat next to each other on the sofa he had leant forward to fiddle with the ‘set’. His young wife meanwhile had put the plate piled high next to her. He sat back, still in his suit trousers, leapt back up again, had a major sense of humour failure and that was the end of macaroni being cooked/eaten/mentioned in our family ever again.
Sitting in a plate of pasta is unfortunate and I’m sorry it gave rise to such a negative response but thankfully most of us remember food for the good times and we all love to relive the memories. Like when I bit into a mulberry last September at Hergest Croft. For a split second I was eight, reaching high to shake the limb of a tree at the back of my primary school. Being the tallest girl in the school in my final year these intensely dark and spicy fruit fell like just deserts giving me a rare opportunity to shine. I have been on the look-out for them ever since.
Everyone has happy eating memories: sipping condensed milk off knitting needles after ‘lights out’ might sound strange but my mother’s eyes positively glaze over when she talks about it. She shares my respect for food and like millions of mothers through time and over the world have children who beg for a repeat of a particular cake or pudding from years before with unique pleading in their eyes. They know how much good feeling can be got from something apparently as simple as the first raspberries and cream of the year.
If only you could go somewhere and ask for just a few of those happy memories to be conjured up for you.
We don’t eat out very often it’s true so maybe there is such a place and I haven’t discovered it. All too often restaurant menus appear to be keeping such a close eye on their neighbour or the fashion that it is difficult to know what tastes are going to win through. I love being surprised and I love ‘new’. But sometimes I like to imagine beforehand what to expect. I think it’s nice for the tastebuds to be primed. It adds to the sense of occasion.
When I put together menus for clients I think about those memories. There is so much talk now of ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ and I hate to follow a trend but I ask you, why would you not want blackberries on a September menu? Everyone deserves the fun of a little time travel. Even if you have never actually stained your hands with this purple juice a spoonful of poached blackberries maybe with a soft peak of geranium cream will let you be a child who did.
Sometimes, if I’m lucky I get to see this happen. Everyone who entertains or caters for others knows that guests go quiet sometimes because of a halt in conversation. This can be uncomfortable but it’s not the sort of silence I listen out for as I’m out behind the scenes in the kitchen. I listen for the silence when a taste memory has caught them by surprise. It doesn’t last very long but I’m pretty sure for a split second they have been somewhere else. I don’t know where. It’s none of my business. But I hope it’s somewhere very happy.
There is always a tiny risk attached to taste bud time travel. You never can be completely certain of course. Which is why macaroni cheese is not on my menu – yet.
Next time – Crusts and Boodles Food Cake