Thursday, February 19, 2015

Meals as memories

I've been listening to the audio version of The Table Comes First.  It's been a really informative and enjoyable listen - a blend of food writing with anthropology and sociological components.   The author doesn't merely give a history of food but adds a lot of hypothesizing about taste, preferences and how cultural shifts affect our eating style.

The writing is very smart but he inserts a wit and facetiousness to keep it moving along.

I'll write a more cohesive synopsis when I finish, but for now he's got me thinking about how food inserts itself in our memory.

My grandmother died when I was only 7 or 8, but I have absolute, unquestionable memories of the food she made. Her italian minestrone soup was better than anything I have ever tasted and likely ever will.   Nobody knows her secret - was it the bone she got from the butcher down the street or the end of the parmesan cheese block.   Unfortunately, that soup went on with her.

My mom has food that will forever conjure memories too.  Her homemade sauce and meatballs, a staple for us growing up and also present at most family holidays.  Eggplant parmesan, sausages and peppers, pizelles, and some appetizers that we only see once a year at Christmas time.  Her food will live on because I know how to make most of it now.

My mother-in-law is as advanced a cook, in Brazilian style, as I will ever know.  She can make main dishes - her black beans are to die for as is her lasagna - as well as desserts - she made a banana cake for us in Rio 5 or 6 years ago that still makes my mouth water.   When she visited us this fall, she cooked non-stop.  I worried that she wasn't enjoying her vacation enough but truth be told, cooking for her family is one of the greatest expressions of love.  Nothing makes her happier than seeing her children and grandchildren devour her meals.

As we chop, peel, and simmer in the kitchen we not only nourish and sustain our family, but we create lasting memories.   Through the senses of taste, smell and sight we engrain a certain love and tradition into the psyche of those we feed.

(the food in our house these days is most certainly a Brazilian-American hybrid.  Most meals are served with Brazilian style rice and American prepped veggies.  The proteins are less culturally specific.)