We are living in a sensual world, and I am a sensual girl. I’m reading Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacobs right now. It’s an extremely inspiring and clarifying piece of non fiction. Dianne breaks down food writing for all that it is and all that it is not. She’s an incredibly sharp and strategic writer with a fluid, realistic approach. When you look at her credentials, it’s no mystery. I highly recommend it.
But this isn’t a book review. It’s a story about food, memory and connection inspired by something she wrote, which really struck me.
Jacob remarked about food writers living through the senses to a heightened degree, recommending especially new writers allow themselves to be submerged in the senses of, not only taste, but smell. I found this striking because I have always had a particularly acute sense of smell which can, not only have a deep affect on my current mood, but also revive old feelings in a visceral, pronounced way.
This is a common human experience as memory and smell are extremely closely related. Smell can dredge up, not just a mental picture, but a genuine sensation from another time in life; essentially you can feel exactly as you did that day in your past. So smell, in a way, could be compared to a sensual form of time travel. Whoa.
It happens to me often. It’s little things like the smell of leather interior as I pass a random parked car. Just a whiff and I’m back at my aunt’s house on Governor’s Avenue in Delaware. It’s 1994 and I’m 8 years old. It’s late November; almost Thanksgiving. Aunt Dee is peeling green apples in the kitchen with Mom. They’re laughing. I don’t know what about, but I laugh too. Maybe it’s contagious, maybe I just love the joy so much, that I assimilate to it without question.
Aunt Dee came from Delaware and swept my little sister and me away on our first adventure the following summer, on a trip to visit family in Iowa. She had just bought a new Ford Explorer which she packed with four small children: my cousins, Sierra and Haley, my sister Naomi and me.
I’m sure it was stained with tiny, greasy fingerprints, cheeto crumbs and yes… even a little pee, by the end of the trip, but the smell of that new untouched leather as it was, burns the essence of that summer week in Iowa and the following November in Delaware, effervescently in my mind.
Aunt Dee came into our lives from out of the blue with all her warmth and breadth and changed my whole perspective on life and connectedness. She is my mom’s sister, a child of from my grandpa Jay’s second marriage. I never knew him or my grandpa on my Dad’s side either. They both died young.
Living in separate states, we were out of touch with our extended family on Mom’s side. Aunt Dee found us and introduced us to our cousins and our other aunts and uncles. There was so much love in that new found connection. My sense of family expanded and I felt the first inclination of the broader sense of humanity as a brethren.
In Iowa, Grandpa Bob made the most amazing buttermilk pancakes. They were small with a soft center and crispy exterior, golden brown, subtly sweet and perfect. No pancake has ever compared. We woke to the smell of bacon. Classic. He got up early to make breakfast for us because he wanted to. He enjoyed watching our little faces light up and peek at the griddle in anticipation.
The above photo is my cousin Haley about to enjoy some. I took these pictures when I was a kid. I guess even then I knew these pancakes were important and pivotal for me, I just couldn’t explain why yet.
Grandpa Bob had married Aunt Dee’s mom, after Grandpa Jay died. So I wasn’t even his blood grandchild, but he treated me like one. He made me the best pancakes and was nice to me, just like a grandpa should be.
Here we cousins are with Grandma Dee, Aunt Dee’s Mom, in Iowa.
The Thanksgiving before, our family had gone to Delaware to celebrate with Aunt Dee, Sierra and Haley. The two trips are intermingled in my mind.
I’m laying on the kitchen floor with Dee and Mom; we’re exhausted from our culinary escapades and just talking and laughing.
A whipped cream fight in the back yard with my cousins. The crystallizing New England air makes the cream cake to our faces and hair and shirts. How lucky when the sweet, fluffy weapon gets us in the face and we lick it from the corners of our lips.
The table setting on Thanksgiving is ample, gorgeous – everything a Thanksgiving table should be. We eat by candlelight and I feel in love; in love with my broadening sense of connection, in love with the warm flicker of fire and the need to stay warm inside around the table together, in love with the ample provisions we assembled. I made a piece of everything here and I am a piece of everyone here, and they’re a piece of me.
This is what makes food so beautiful – the sense of connection behind it. It’s an experience rooted in our sense of self and our relation to others. It’s a medium to our deeper, primal, spiritual, emotional and cognitive selves.
The sensual world is such a beautiful place to be, and that is why food writing resonates with me. Because we are what we eat and we connect with the food we consume, with our deeper being when we nourish our physical bodies, with each other when we build these morsels with, or for each other. The stomach and it’s close relative, the nose, are the ways to the heart, to the prominent moments of our past, and most importantly, to the present.
Have you noticed the connection between smell and memory? What are some of your strongest memories along these lines? How about your favorite holiday memory?