Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.
Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.
As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.
As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.
As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!
That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say! It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.
It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.
Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.
Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?
Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.
Thanks for taking us on a trip back to your grandmother’s kitchen! (Of course, now I have to go raid the kitchen for something!) I know exactly what you’re talking about, although I didn’t have much exposure to my grandparents. For me, I always make a point of finding new foods and sampling the truly local cuisine when I travel internationally, and the good stuff I then try to find when I get back home.
Your comments on fresh fruits are spot on. Fortunately, even here in our great concrete metropolis we can still find farmers’ markets. In addition, there’s a fruit stand right next to Camarillo Airport (my weekend home) where they’re picking strawberries and vegetables out of the fields in back and selling them in front. MUCH better than the stuff at the supermarket!
Supermarket fruit just hardly has any taste. Same goes for the vegetables, especially tomatoes. Homegrown is always best.
I’m a definite “foodie” in that I love food and trying different things (though I’m admittedly picky — for instance, I won’t eat sushi or calamari or things I deem weird for whatever reason).
My favorite foods though are all homemade and all come from my Mother’s house. Her potato soup is to die for, as are her cabbage rolls, fried cabbage, and a dish she makes by frying squash, zucchini, and onions that have been lightly tossed with flour (oh my god, now I’m hungry).
Another absolute favorite is when she fries green tomatoes — which she apparently did today and made a point of texting me to let me know. Which I thought was just plain mean. I bet they were delicious too, they always are. I was craving them all day after that.
Ah, Marcel Proust and his ‘Madaleine Moment’. Mine is the smell of cigarettes reminds me always of my grandparents flat.
I will have to look that up now! My dad smoked pipes when I was younger with tobacco that always had a pleasant aroma — I don’t come across pipes often anymore, but when I do, that brings back memories for me as well.
Totally agree with you… Everything about food transports us back to some amazing memories related to it 👍
It really does! Amazing how the mind conjures up things. So far I’ve been lucky that it’s always been good memories…haven’t hit on anything bad yet. But then again, maybe certain food aversions are there for that specific reason. I know that the smell of lilies reminds me of funerals — I love the flower, hate the smell. Maybe some of the foods I hate, I hate for a reason (other than I just find them “weird” LOL) and just don’t realize it.
lt me know when you find a really good pork tenderloin sandwich. I’d be so there to have one. 🙂
Get outta my head!! I was just sitting at lunch with Pretty, and we had fresh tomatoes from some friends. I was transported to my grandmother’s lunch where we had sliced tomatoes from Preacher Garfield’s garden every summer. Yummy, and thanks for the memories of 65 years ago.
There’s nothing quite like a good, country biscuit !
We can see how genetically modified produce does not have flavor, taste and lacks any features that made that produce so attractive when it was real and not modified.
Interesting, when I thought for a while, my memories are quite frequently associated with perfumes and these come together with sounds of music. Very vividly.
I do remember the taste of real ice cream from times when I was 6-7 years old. I believe that is the reason I am not a big fan of ice cream. It doesn’t have the taste of the real one. These ones are over-sweetened and over-flavored. No comparison.
In Latvia, we are usually picking wild berries: wild strawberries, wild blueberries, wild raspberries, blackberries, cloud-berries, lingonberries (I haven’t seen these here so far), wild cranberries in marshes. It is not so much fun in the forest, but the taste is the best we can get. Sister just messaged me over Facebook how many wild mushrooms and berries they picked in one day.
Yes, wild mushrooms is one more reason I go to Latvia. I have been picking them since I was only 3!!! We know the edible ones, and the taste is awesome.
Thanks! Your post brought up a lot of memories!