Is it just me, or do certain foods simply evoke overwhelming nostalgia? My emotional connection with bites, smells, and sips can transport me into a moment with family members from decades ago. I appreciate this more now that I’m older since many relatives are no longer with me. And although loved ones have passed, quirks I have associated with them over the years keep them alive in my heart and often make me laugh when I share stories about why I do certain things in a wacky way.
Slurping coffee makes it taste better.
My maternal grandmother, Gaga, raised four Southern belles in Columbia, South Carolina. Being ladylike and having impeccable manners was the daily expectation of my mom and her three sisters. Yet, I remember Gaga having a great sense of humor and not taking herself too seriously. Her first sip of coffee every morning was anything but refined. It was a loud, long slurp followed by smack-smack-smack of her lips with a grand finale of a tongue click that led her to say, “Ahhhhhhh. That’s good coffee!”
My mom told me this story about her mom soon after she passed away; that was many years ago. I had forgotten this morning ritual of hers until later reminded of it. I realized I started doing this slurpy morning announcement, I think, as a way to remember Gaga, which I do, almost daily. It may only be a flash moment, but there are days where the flashes extend to long reminiscences about her. My favorite ones are of just the two of us talking because she was the BEST listener, and I always felt heard. Gaga was a wise woman who made me consider and understand things my parents tried so hard to do but couldn’t. She also made the best teacake cookies, dumplings, biscuits, peach cobbler — anything with butter and flour — and she NEVER used a recipe.
I’ll always be a meat and potatoes girl.
One of the sweetest souls I’ve ever known was my Mama Peach, my dad’s mom. My brother and I would spend weekends with Mama and Papa Peach frequently as they loved having their five grandkids spend as much time with them as possible. Mama Peach let us have ice cream for breakfast, stay up late watching Fantasy Island, and would then draw a Calgon bath for us. All of her grandkids requested the same dinner when we stayed with them, meatntaters (yep, it’s one word), which is ground beef in her special sauce and drippy, buttery mashed potatoes. Nothing else could be on the plate but the beef and mashed potatoes because we would mix it up until it looked like prison slop and then eat it. It was DELICIOUS!
After she passed away, we couldn’t find her recipe for meatntaters. But, several years ago I was making sloppy joes for my family, and I didn’t have buns. I found instant potatoes in the pantry and whipped that together. I had a flashback and then plated dinner just like Mama Peach’s meatntaters. I told the story to my men and promptly made prison slop on my plate. It tasted just like my weekends on Pinebranch Road! I was transported back to the ’80s, my brother and I sitting in their side-by-side recliners, eating meatntaters on a TV table, watching The Love Boat on their console TV that sat on the floor. Those are some of the happiest moments of my childhood, and I get to reminisce often since this is now a staple dinner during busy weeks.
He likes the pointy piece.
My uncle Mutt has been in heaven for a few years, and he had a quirky food preference, too. He luuuuuuuuv’d the first bite of a slice of pie or cake — the pointy piece. We all knew about it, and I’m pretty sure each of us still say to ourselves (silently or aloud) when we slide the fork down that triangle tip, “Here’s the Mutt bite.” Even my husband knows this special anatomy of dessert, and if we are sharing a slice of anything, he always lets me have the Mutt bite. I don’t know why this particular bite was his thing, and it doesn’t matter because all I need to have a great memory of Uncle Mutt is a sweet bite after dinner. He was a great joke-teller, laughed at his own jokes, and had a fantastic laugh! Even if the joke was a flop, I laughed because his laugh was that infectious.
As I prepare for “the most wonderful time of the year,” which is my most hectic time, too, I’m comforted when these seemingly small food moments help me remember loved ones and help me slow down.
I can’t be the only one — who else has food nostalgia that deeply connects you to people? I’d love to know!