December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
I don’t have a poignant or standout early food memory like so many writers I come across. At least, I can’t pinpoint one. Visions of mint chocolate chip Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes on my birthday come to mind, and I remember a truly simple but favored comfort dish of green beans, chicken and rice cooked on the stove. My mom made two-flavor fudge and coconut balls and date balls (yuck.) around this time of year when I was growing up, and I watched and tasted but I’m not sure that I helped. (She made other dishes, like Swedish meatballs and fried chicken livers, that made me shudder then and now.)
I didn’t have a euphoric moment with food as a kid. There was a lot of Cream of Wheat and scrambled eggs and fish sticks and chicken spaghetti and the occasional box of Fruity Pebbles. We had a couple of so-so successful gardens that gave us passable corn and one really good watermelon. But, I can’t rhapsodize about my first strawberry or peach, though I do remember my mom stalking the strip mall where the peach man would park his truck every summer in our city. As a kid, I thought Pillsbury apple turnovers from the refrigerated section of the grocery store were the pinnacle of Saturday morning breakfast treats, and I confess, I still kind of do. Perfectly portioned packets of cinnamon apple filling, creamy icing glaze and buttery, flaky dough crescents…what’s not to like?
Maybe the wild blackberries we picked along our dirt-road driveway would be my most idyllic food memory. None have ever tasted better, or worse, if they weren’t ripe. Of course, memories for food, or anything else, might not be the most trustworthy. The best _______ we’ve ever had is firmly tied to where and who we were when we partook of it. I think food you eat while traveling can be so filling and good because of the sheer depth of your hunger after being worn out from schlepping and navigating.
Those coconut balls my mom made aren’t exactly the same now, and how could they be? I’ve changed, the ingredients have changed, and the recipe is never executed the same way twice. Those food experiences we extol as ultimate and perfect will always exist as such in slowly fading memories and serve as catalysts to seek the next great food encounter. Maybe chasing the elusive flavor is not about finding it again after all.