Tasteful Memories

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.

A Little Help, Please?

I love scones. What’s not to love? They’re delicious. When done right, that is. According to Grocery Budget 101, “Scones are a simple, forgiving treat that even an inexperienced baker can throw together easily.” Well. That should make things easy. Any one of you should be able to toddle on over and just whip me up a batch or two or three of these to die for looking scones I found a recipe for the other day (Pumpkin Raisin Scones!) without a problem in the world.  Don’t look at me like that. I know my limitations and I simply don’t have enough Baileys to pull this recipe off.   But, I’ll leave the light on…AND preheat the oven!

Hey, the article even says, these delightful pastries are: “are perfect for those back to school mornings on the go.” (emphasis is mine)

I’m looking at you here M-O-T-H-E-R…your granddaughter needs sustenance. Of course don’t let the fact that her picky eating habits would never ever allow anything even slightly resembling a raisin much less something called a scone (gasp!) pass her lips even bother you for a moment. They are a back to school necessity, I tell you!

Oh!  And I bet they would go really well with that Irish potato soup recipe I emailed you last week. What? Do you think I just send you these things for no reason?? That’s what happens when you cook so well. Guess you should’ve thought of that all those years ago when you started spoiling everyone and we all got so used to it. Bet you wish you had burned more dinners now, don’t you?

And as for anyone else who wants to try their hand…I’m more than happy to be a guinea pig. Just send those scones on over to me!  I’ll get the Devonshire Cream!

 

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

CLICK FOR RECIPE!

My Mother, the truly amazing yet possibly deceptive chef

My Mom is an amazing cook.  She always has been.  Back in the day, she cooked West Virginia style which meant lots of heavenly home-made gravy, melt-in-your-mouth scratch biscuits and some of the best fried chicken you’d ever stick a fork into.  Although seriously, who uses a fork with fried chicken?  Dinner was always an occasion in my house growing up although I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much then as I do now. Like my Grandmother before her, my Mom’s cooking is southern perfection.

Sadly, times change.  Several years ago my Mom started cooking a bit healthier, but she still retained her original Top Chef skills. I do feel sorry sometimes for my Dad though – he sure does like his food…it’s a true, deep down enjoyment with him. A soulful experience if you will. And now he’s relegated to healthy lifestyle inspiring menu items, which we all know what that means.  Luckily he has my Mom to put her touch on what could otherwise be some pretty boring and unappetizing dishes.

Pretty much everything that came out of my mother’s kitchen was “from scratch.”  It’s only in very recent years that she has stooped to using things like instant rice or canned “cream” soups as a base…but that’s about as far as she’s willing to go with these newfangled food ideas. She tried to pass down her cooking techniques to me and did in fact teach me some nifty little tricks in the kitchen. I can create succulent dishes with the best of them, thanks to her.  BUT…and maybe it’s nostalgia or maybe it’s idolatry … BUT I swear no matter how hard I try I can never get anything I cook to taste as good as my Mom makes it.

It’s not for lack of trying. In fact, I might be trying too hard! I follow her instructions obsessively, but no matter how disciplined I am I can never get the fried chicken or potato soup to reach that “Mom” level of yumminess. I’ve begun to think that it’s my strict adherence to the rules that has kept me from achieving those upper echelons of cooking mastery.

My Mom gives me these recipes that I follow to a T but I know for a fact that even she doesn’t follow them that closely. She’s flat out told me so. She treats her recipes more as a useful list of suggestions rather than a set of requirements to check off. The end result is that every time she cooks something it’s a tiny bit different from the last time. Perhaps there’s a bit more pepper or a bit less salt or tarragon instead of thyme (because she was out of thyme and another seasoning that starts with the letter “T” is probably just as good). Is this the reason her concoctions always taste so good? Are the small changes she introduces with each new iteration of a recipe what keep my taste buds titillated?

That all sounds reasonable, but I’ll confess to thinking a bit irrationally at times and have begun to seriously wonder if she leaves out an ingredient on purpose. Is she intentionally switching up the baking time because she knows three minutes more or less is going to alter the taste just the little bit that she needs? You may be thinking, “Well, maybe you’re just a mediocre chef.” Ridiculous. I’ve literally stood next to my mother and watched her every move when she’s cooking and I still can’t duplicate what I watched her make with my own eyes.

There’s some sort of deception involved here and I’m going to figure it out. Until then, I’m going to need my mother to live as long as it takes for me to be as good of a cook as her. She simply cannot die. Period. Not just because I’d lose my best friend in the world, but because I really need her fried chicken.

 

My Parents

My Parents