Since following podcaster and author Gretchen Rubin’s work urging awareness of the five senses, I have focused on sensory experiences for more happiness.
In the past month, the focus is taste. I’ve tried to replicate the tastes of various foods from my childhood. Remembering the tastes of certain foods evokes a strong connection with my past.
The memories always start in my mother’s kitchen. Unfortunately, I spent little time in my mother’s kitchen preferring to hide in my room with a book. While growing up, I no attention to her cooking techniques. I merely enjoyed what she served.
To my good fortune, she carefully transcribed many family recipes on cards and put them together into a recipe box. I treasure these recipe cards as each one is carefully written in shaky handwriting characteristic of the palsy in her ninetieth year when she created the recipe box.
No Standardized Recipes or Measures
Replication attempts at creating the tastes of my childhood failed to some degree as the foods my mother created did not come from standardized recipes. The recipes she transcribed often used approximations or estimations for measurements. For example, she often states, ‘use about a cup of flour’ or add a ‘big knob of butter’.
My mother used her hand as a vessel when adding a ‘pinch of salt’. She poured salt directly from the salt box into the palm of her hand. Now, was that 1 teaspoon full or ½ a teaspoon?
She had recipe books but seldom used them. I’ve inherited some of these books. When I read the recipes, I find terminology that I don’t understand. For example, ‘bake in a square pan’ or, ‘set the cake in a moderate oven’.
What size of square pan do I use? Is it 8 x 8 inches or 9 x 9?
When I check Google for moderate oven temperature, I learn that a ‘moderate’ oven temperature covers a range of 350 – 375 degrees Fahrenheit!
Ingredients Are Not the Same
Another difficulty in re-creating the taste of childhood foods is that the ingredients are not the same.
I love to bake bread and have tried many recipes looking for a taste similar to the bread my mother baked. I make good bread but I can’t quite replicate the taste of my mother’s loaves as I remember it.
This may be due to differences in flour. It’s difficult to get freshly ground wheat flour unless I go to a flour mill some distance from my house. When I buy a paper bag of all-purpose flour from the grocery store, I know that it was ground and shipped months ago. Unbleached flour is a closer replica of the flour she used but it’s still not quite the same.
Yeast is also different. My grocery store carries traditional yeast granules, rapid-rise yeast granules and instant yeast granules. My mother always used compressed yeast that she bought at her local store. It was stored in the refrigerator. The yeast she used came in the form of a fresh-smelling yeast cake that I can’t find in the grocery store.
I realize that some differences in taste occur because my tastes have changed over the years. I’ve learned to eat and love foods that are more highly flavoured including Thai dishes, curries, kimchis, and aged cheeses. Many of the dishes my mother cooked now taste bland to me. What tasted good in childhood tastes different in my 7th decade!
Yet, my childhood memories conjure yummy tastes. Was this because the food was made with love? Are my emotions wrapped up with memories of the tastes of food I loved in childhood?
I once had a yoga teacher who claimed that when food was cooked by someone in a foul mood, it would not taste good. She admonished us to pay attention to the karma we put into the food we prepared urging us to focus on good feelings for those who would consume it. She believed that we transformed our energy into the process of making food.
I’m sure there were days when my mother did not enjoy the process of cooking or baking. Nonetheless, my memories don’t include food filled with negative energy. Rather, my memories are of growing up with a mother who valued good food and its careful preparation. My childhood food memories are of tastes created by someone who loved to cook and who created wonderful foods in our household. Childhood food memories will always be special!