Photo Credit: getty images
My mother will probably kill me for saying this, but she served her kids cake for breakfast every morning. Okay, so it came in the form of a muffin, but it was basically cake: Light, fluffy white cake densely studded with semisweet chocolate chips, wrapped in a neat paper cup. We bought them by the dozen from the local Shaw’s supermarket and kept them in a plastic bag in the freezer. I would heat mine up in the microwave (1 minute, 20 seconds) before digging in. Sara, my sister, ate hers straight out of the freezer. I stopped eating the cupcakes long ago, once I hit puberty (my thighs still thank me for it), but every time I catch even a whiff of a chocolate chip muffin, the memory comes flooding back. In fact, just a few months ago I received a voice mail message from my uncle saying, “You were right. We [my uncle and young cousin] just finished a taste test. Shaw’s chocolate chip muffins really are the best.” Suddenly I was nine years old again.
Food can trigger surprisingly strong emotional responses. Spotting a forgotten dish on a menu years after first tasting it can transport you in time. A single bite of a long-cherished recipe can flood your brain with memories of friends or family. Take chopped liver. Put a plate of it in front of me and my sister immediately comes to mind. She probably doesn’t even like the stuff anymore, but she was the only five-year-old in town who tried the spread and asked for seconds and thirds. And nary a blueberry passes my lips without making me think instantly of my mother. If she could eat nothing else for the rest of her life, she would be happy with her blueberries.
Even ho-hum food that you remember as being so good can stay with you forever. The pasta you had on your first anniversary at that romantic hole-in-the-wall restaurant wasn’t really the “best rigatoni of your life,” and yet somehow it was, because of the way you felt at the time. The meals you recall from childhood vacations to the beach or the mountains probably weren’t really that great, but you remember them fondly nonetheless.
Want to start a rollicking conversation at the dinner table? Ask your family members to recount their food memories. Challenge your kids to think of the food that most reminds them of Dad, or Grandma or Uncle Jimmy. Or ask them which food they first remember trying and loving. It’s sure to get them talking.
What's your favorite food memory? Chime in below!