Feb 15, 2020
Emily presents an encore from guests in Season 2 sharing memories of food they learned about, or shared with, their own grandparents. Plus, we visit the brand-new Test Kitchen in our town, where a Korean chef is sharing his grandmother's recipes with his new Midwestern clientele.
The cover photo this week shows Mike's Grandmother's Yeast Rolls, which are featured in Emily's essay about food memories.
THE STRETCH IT TAKES (Emily's essay): Food, Smells, and Memory
On a recent visit to our house,my granddaughter opened our front door, took a deep breath and ran into the kitchen. She placed her nose just inches away from the hot- out -of- the- oven 13 by 9 pan, and said “Pita!” I love pita...I could eat the whole pan of pita all by myself.”
Now for many of you, the word Pita means pita bread, defined as a family of yeast-leavened round flatbreads baked from wheat flour, common in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Maybe you dip it in hummus, or fill it with grilled meat and veggies.
For our family, pita is short for Tiropita, a Greek pastry made with layers of buttered phyllo and filled with a cheese-egg mixture. Many times it is served in the shape of a triangle or a pie-shape. When my grandmother came over from Greece as a young child, I’m pretty sure that’s how it was presented. But as time would have it, traditions morph and so the triangles have become squares cut from a rectangular pan and the name shortened to pita. No matter the name or the shape...to our family, it has always just meant delicious.
When I prepare that recipe for our grands, I know that their taste buds have been groomed to enjoy it. They have eaten it as young children, warm from the oven or cold on family picnics. They love the taste of the feta cheese and the pungent smell of it doesn’t seem to bother them.
That’s the way things are with food. Smells become memories. Think of your own memories related to food. The cooking smell of bread, cookies, onions and veggies, special soups - all of them elicit very specific memories. Just Google “sense of smell,” and this is what you learn:
Of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most important trigger of memory. One reason is that the olfactory system is located in the same part of our brain that affects emotions, memory, and creativity.
And so we can be in the grip of a food memory at any moment...walking down a crowded street, entering someone’s home, getting seated in a restaurant. All of these things can evoke memories of food. When I smell roasted chestnuts, I’m immediately transported to two different places at once: the streets of NYC and then Disney World where for one Christmas we met as a family and were greeted by roasting chestnuts at the entrance to The Grand Floridian. Both the cold of NYC and the Florida warmth combine in my memories to create a sense of complete enchantment.
What are the food smells that make you think of your grandparents? For me, it was pitta, or avgolemono soup, or something my Greek grandmother called Chop Suey, which is hilarious because that name is generally associated with an Asian-american dish of cooked vegetables and meat with a sauce poured over rice. But for us, it became a dish of ground beef, diced tomatoes and elbow macaroni. A far cry from the original! But if you make it, you get to name it.
In our family, Avgolemono Soup - a Greek egg, lemon and orzo soup has become Soap Suds Soup because the whipped egg whites look like soap suds floating on the surface. We always call the boxed Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup, GSFA, which stands for Green stuff floating around. We call a specific kind of chocolate cake, chocolate mistake cake because my husband’s mother accidentally made a frosting that hardened on the cake too quickly and the frosting became more like a chocolate bar on top...so yummy.
We can’t be the only family who has these crazy traditions. I would love to hear yours! If you have any that you would like to share, feel free to post on our FB page The Grand LIfe, call in a memory at 317-572-7876, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have to say that each time I prepare one of our grandparent’s recipes, I think of the great cooking legacy that each of them has left. After scrambling hamburger in an iron skillet, my grandfather used to scrape the crumbles out with a piece of bread and hand it to me. I don’t do that often, but I do think of grampa everytime I scramble a hamburger. And every time we sit down to a holiday meal, we enjoy Grandmother’s Yeast rolls. I love that as we split open a roll to add honey or butter, we often exclaim that grandmother’s recipe is the best. Once again, her memory is evoked, and we not only enjoy her rolls, but also, by remembering - we enjoy her company. - with each and every glorious bite.
© 2019 Emily Morgan