There are certain foods that have a way of transporting us to different times and places. One whiff of baking scented with cinnamon, and I am immediately in Sweden. The smell of dill hitting warm potatoes and I am thinking of a summer feast. A roasting chicken sends me back to childhood Sunday lunches, and just the thought of a Croque Monsieur and I am back in the Paris of my childhood, and the holidays we spent there. These are my Proustian moments, my madeleines and lime blossom tea.
Smells and tastes can stir up nostalgic emotions and memories, both good and bad. Childhood food memories for me include tinned tomato soup with little toast squares, which, when I was ill in bed, was often the only thing I could, or would, eat. During a particularly fussy phase when I must have been around seven or eight, I remember refusing meat, preferring a plate of mashed potatoes and tinned peas. My mother was in no way a good cook, but the smell of her wonderful stew comes to mind and wipes out the awful taste of the icing she made for the top of our slightly flat birthday cakes.
I might have said any of these if someone had asked me the other day about food nostalgia. Equally, I could have mentioned all the wonderful tastes and smells I was exposed to during those aforementioned trips to Paris, or a wonderful dish of monkfish in an orange based sauce my older brother made once (and which I have never managed to recreate) or the first time I smelled pesto.
So it came as a surprise to me what really triggered a wave of food memories the other day. At work this week, we had a breakfast fund raising event for The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. The table was piled high with all sorts of things, including what I would call a Scotch Pancake or drop scone (or here in New Zealand, hot cakes). Immediately, my mouth watered, so I grabbed a couple, warmed them up and slathered them with strawberry jam.
These sweet, soft warm mouthfuls of delight remind me of childhood, of visiting a friend of my mother’s who always made these for afternoon tea. Hers were so perfect in every way and always served warm from the pan. Mum used to make them too sometimes on Sundays, and even though they were not quite the same, they were still devoured with relish. Shop bought ones are fine and do the trick, but nothing beats home made ones
So, come Sunday, I’ll be getting out the eggs and flour and whipping up a batch. Might even share them.