Food and memory

Proust immortalized the madeleine cookie in his seven volume In Search of Lost Time (A la recherché de temps perdu). Eating this simple French dessert he relived the memories of his childhood through his senses: tasting, smelling, touching and seeing this treat in both the past and the present.

Food is an important part of my life – thanks mainly to my excellent cook of a husband – and I’ve made it central to my protagonist’s story. Agnes Luthi’s father is a retired world famous chef, and her mother-in-law knows that she can buy love through her simple Swiss cooking.

Authors have long used food to tell a part of their story, and to evoke memories and sensations with just a word – madeleine! pasta! a rack of ribs over a grill….. parmesan ice cream (yes that’s a real think in Italy).

Are there special foods in your life, or on the pages of your favorites books, that tell the story of a past or a place? I’ll start and say fried chicken, rice and gravy. To me this combination will forever mean Sunday in my grandmother’s kitchen in the Mississippi Delta. It was always hot, there were always crop dusters flying over at dawn, and we always had a great time.


  1. Scents and tastes are always so memorable! I think of peanut butter pocket cookies with my grandma (& I have my protagonist make them, too!), roast beef and mashed potatoes with my mom, steak and fried red tomatoes with my dad… I have a funny memory of eating tuna fish sandwiches, sitting in lawn chairs just inside the garage (?!?) with my grandparents on hot summer days, watching the street and the traffic go by – LOL. Why they didn’t like their cute backyard as much is so funny to me! They didn’t want to miss any action out front, I guess. So we just had the garage scent of petrol and yard equipment as a backdrop to our sandwiches, chips and Ho-Ho’s for dessert.

  2. My memories of food almost always settle on my Danish grandmother’s simple kitchen. I never saw her use a recipe. Her hands just knew what to do. Sunday roast (beef and pork wrapped together) with all the trimmings turned into Monday Hash. I’d give a lot to taste it today. Then there was her legendary apple pies and apple sauce, made from her tart backyard apples. Best of all was her cardamom bread, made weekly, including a miniature loaf just for me. No wonder I love carbs!

  3. Cardamom bread…. I think I need this recipe, sounds marvelous. I have recently failed (should be in all caps) at making a saffron bread from Switzerland. It should have been good, but it was…. ‘okay.’

  4. I have so many memories associated with food and meals, which is funny because my mother hated to cook. But I loved to eat, so I suppose we found a balance. Wednesday night was always McDonalds night in our house, and that was a great moment. Big Macs for all. When she did cook she liked to make veal cutlets and bread pudding (which she bought ready-made from Waldbaums.) She was fortunate in that my father was an orphan and had grown up on spaghetti covered with ketchup. So anything she did was great to him. He used to love to sing songs from Gilbert & Sullivan and we would all croon along as we ate our French Fries.

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