The Stuff of Memories


I spend more time every day, in one way or another, preparing food than anything else. Whether I’m baking bread or milking the cow or doing the dishes (which I typically do two to three times a day), I’m somewhere in the process of preparing food. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and all the food I spent all day preparing is gone, and I think—what have I done? My work disappeared. There is no record of it. It was here, then it vanished. Poof.

Then I remember.

Memories are made of food. For some reason, whatever it is, human beings are tuned to create memories surrounding food. Rare is the memory from my childhood that doesn’t have a food association, whether at the center of the memory or somewhere in the corner of it.

I will never, in my wildest dreams, ever make a biscuit as good as my mom’s biscuits. There was never a Saturday morning in my childhood that didn’t include biscuits. She used the end of a butter knife to make a hole and she would pour molasses in, until we were old enough to do it ourselves. I think I was an adult before I ever put butter on a biscuit. Biscuits were for molasses, poured into the hole. The molasses came from trips to West Virginia. Molasses was special. It was for Saturday mornings with biscuits.

Christmas was cookies, the ones my mom made every single year, same ones. Thanksgiving was all about the dressing, made from biscuits or Grandmother Bread mixed with cornbread.

Birthdays were special cakes, whatever we requested, and whatever entrée we wanted.

Fried chicken in an iron skillet.

I’ll never forget the cottage cheese with cling peaches. And we had to eat it. (Why, Mom, WHY.)

Baby food jars of chocolate pudding that my mom bought till we were in junior high because we liked it.

Grandmother bread, thick-sliced, with butter, at supper every night.

Martinsburg, West Virginia and the best food ever ever ever. For some time, my dad (who was a Church of Christ minister) was between churches and he took a job preaching for a small, struggling congregation in Martinsburg. We lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside D.C. Every weekend meant driving to Martinsburg. Sundays after morning service, the members took turns taking us home. THE FOOD. It was from the gods. They all had gardens. They lived in white clapboard farmhouses where I would explore the grounds after lunch then play with my little Matchbox cars on their sloped walkways. They always had candy jars. Lunch was a spread of mythical proportions with all the garden-fresh produce and incredible pies and cakes.

Popcorn balls at Christmas at my grandmother’s house in Illinois. (My West Virginia grandmother, my Grandmother Bread grandmother, after she left WV.) She was an incredible cook. She always served sherry to the grownups. When I was 12, she and my step-grandfather (Luster) took me to a hotel for Easter brunch and let me have champagne and I’m not sure my parents ever forgave them. When I was little, Luster used to take me out and buy me baby dolls then take me to a pie shop.

Food, food, food. There is food in every memory somewhere.

Baby Weston, happy after finishing a plate of spaghetti.

And then I think– What I do matters, after all. Someday, somebody is going to remember it.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on November 17, 2010  

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  1. 11-17

    Food is all about memories, the smell of ham at Christmas and Easter, turkey at Thanksgiving. When I make a special recipe of my Mom’s or Sister’s it always brings me back to a very special place in time. When we prepare and cook meals for our loved one’s we are making special memories for them and ourselves, even though sometimes it only takes them 5 minutes to eat it! :sheep:

  2. 11-17

    This post makes me want to go and dig out old photographs and delf down memory lane! I love that pic of Weston…he is not going to be impressed with you for posting it ha ha!

  3. 11-17

    Great post! So true.

    I’ve been gathering family recipes to make into a scrapbook, along with photos of the person whose recipe it was (or the one who loved it best), anedotes about the cook or occasions upon which the recipe was enjoyed. I’m going to try to represent all of my family members with at least one recipe. Then when it’s all done, I’m going to make copies for them. It’s a big project. Hope I can get it done while they’re all still here!

  4. 11-17

    Everyday cooking is somewhat like ironing. Just as you finish, it’s wonderful. An accomplishment, sometimes nearing art. Then in the time it takes to sit down, either at the table or at the table in the just ironed pants(or whatever), it’s over. But like you, I think it’s worth doing and doing to the best of your ability. Now holiday foods, tamales, duck gumbo, cornbread dressing,roast pig in the ground, that’s some serious memories!

  5. 11-17

    So true. Baked butt and beans, made for my mom’s brother when he was single. I remember him coming once or twice in his (WWII) soldier’s uniform. Mom’s concern over a Christmas dinner of lamb when the same brother voiced his disdain for mutton. Parts from every animal available, but especially spaghetti sauce with chicken livers. (And no, I was not allowed to pick them out and eat around them).
    \Makes me remember that anytime I wrinkled up my nose at something I heard, “There are children starving in China.” I remember once (and only once) responding, “So let’s send this oatmeal to them.” Ah yes, food and memories.

  6. 11-17

    This post is especially meaningful. Perfect for this time of year. Thank you.

  7. 11-17

    A lovely post. Thanks, it brings back many happy childhood memories.

  8. 11-17

    :woof: Warm post made me also think about my Gram and all the wonderful cakes and meals she spent all day preparing for the ones she loved.Hope my children and grandchildren will one day have the same wonderful ones of me..
    Granny Trace

  9. 11-17

    I love this post, and it’s so true! All my best memories include food. But it’s not just about eating the food. It’s a scientific fact that smell is the strongest trigger for memories and a lot of times those smells are related to particular foods. Like Grammie’s snickerdoodles or Grandma Lori’s Easter ham or Mom’s fresh baked bread. You’ve got me hungry and nostalgic just thinking about it!

  10. 11-17

    You’ve done it again! (goosebumps and all) A wonderful post.

  11. 11-17

    Oh the cling peaches with cottage cheese. I LOVED it! It’s the memory of sitting in Mom’s kitchen and having it for breakfast, or at the dining table for dessert (we didn’t do pies or fancy desserts–simple fruit in jello or canned peaches and cottage cheese was “dessert” for us). You got me thinking about it now… I do have to run out today. guess what I’m coming home with.

  12. 11-17

    yes, they will! We are the matriarchs now, the ones who make the Grandmother bread. We are the keeper of the traditions, the maker of the pies, the cooker of the cookies! It’s a big job, our creditials are our aprons and our skillets. My kids are grown now and I get to spoil GRANDson’s…that’s the payoff and it’s worth every minute I ever spent in the kitchen! Great post Suzanne, it touched my :heart:

  13. 11-17

    One day Morgan will be writing on her blog…The Stuff of Memories and bringing back all the good memories of food and she’ll talk about the hot cocoa bread her mom made just for her, or all the wonderful cheeses her mom made and the COW MILK! ;)

    Just keep the memories building, it will all be remembered :)

  14. 11-17

    You are so right Suzanne! Thanks for another great story! :)

  15. 11-17

    Yes these are some of the best memories!

  16. 11-17

    Great post :heart: and I call these “memory buds” and they are very strong for many people. Several years ago I was camp cook at a Nascar race and at breakfast I sliced up a plate of fresh tomatoes. One of my big burly bearded friends came to me with wet eyes – said he hadn’t seen anyone serve sliced tomatoes with breakfast since his Momma did so – she’d passed away when he was 18 – just after he left for the Navy. It had been 30 years.


  17. 11-17

    I remember going to my great-grandmother’s house. She had a wood-burning cook stove in one corner and an electric range on another wall. There was a big kitchen table in the middle of this small kitchen. My great-grandmother and my grandmother would cook incredible meals on these 2 stoves while my aunts and uncles sat around that kitchen table and talked. (Ma-maw had 9 children so there was always a crowd.) We kids would be running around playing, sometimes sitting at the table listening or just generally getting in the way. Ma-maw and Granny never scolded any of us for being in the way. Different aunts or my mom would jump up and help with some tasks. Then, when the food was ready, it would be served on the huge table in the dining room. We kids would fill our plates and go back to the kitchen table to eat. Oh, the FOOD. Wonderful! Most of it cooked on a wood-burning cook stove. Turkeys, hams, pumpkin pies, giant bowls of mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans (with bacon grease), cakes, cookies, etc. The vegetables were fresh or home canned. Incredible!

  18. 11-17

    I also associate food with so many memories! Music, too. I’m grateful that I get to provide nutritious meals to my children. :)

  19. 11-17

    Great post full of memories with aromas. And wonderful comments from your readers too. Brought back a wistful tear or two.

  20. 11-17

    Great post! Made me pull up memories from of my Mom when I was a kid; scraps of pie crust dusted with sugar and cinnamon and baked as a pre-pie treat—just for me! So many other pictures and scenes of me and my Mom and our kitchens….My kids have these types of memories of me; boy does that warm my heart!

  21. 11-17

    That is the cutest picture!

  22. 11-17

    Suzanne, I haven’t read the previous comments yet, don’t have time right now, so I may be repeating others. I got tears in my eyes when I read about Luster taking you out to buy you baby dolls and then taking you to the pie shop! And, that photo of Weston is beyond doubt totally *adorable*!!!

  23. 11-17

    I am thankful for this post! Not a day goes by that a food memory doesn’t make me think of my days as a child and then raising my children. Lots of sweet memories and even today, still making those memories!

  24. 11-17

    Food is love in edible form! Nobody forgets that once they’ve experienced it. :-)

    Incidentally Suzanne, I don’t know if you saw this but it made me think of you– full-color photographs (yep, they did exist) from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, preserved by the Library of Congress. Here’s a couple of links, one’s a blog post from the Denver Post that has about 70 particular highlights, the second is a link to the Library of Congress on Flickr, and the third is a link to the Library of Congress page if you don’t want to deal with the notes and comments on Flickr. There are some incredible photos in there (blame that first photo in the Denver Post set for passing it on– thought you’d appreciate the apron). I take no responsibility for hours spent looking at photos, of course!

  25. 11-17

    Suzanne… not to sound like some crazy stalker or weirdo.. but I just had a gut feeling that you had been raised in the Church of Christ! It’s just a ‘feeling’ I get when I meet someone especially since I’ve was raised in the Church of Christ and was in attendance each time the doors were open, for the first 20 years of my life! LOL

    I can completely relate – most of my childhood memories are focused around my mom’s big round dining room table and family gatherings with lots of our family’s favorite dishes.

  26. 11-17

    Amy, LOL! Yes, I am (was) a C of C’er!

  27. 11-17

    I just love the name Luster! It sounds like he was a good man.

  28. 11-17

    I LOVED reading all your fond memories of luscious food. Thanks for sharing them. :)

  29. 11-17

    This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is all about family & food prep, FOOD & food clean-up.
    For some reason lately I have been remembering making donuts when I was a child, with my aunts & mother. So, Thanksgiving weekend, my daughters, mom, sistes & I are going to give it a shot. More food related memories…..

  30. 11-17

    Couldn’t agree more. Great post!

  31. 11-17

    Beautiful post, and so true!

  32. 11-17

    A few tears, and lots of memories of family, and eating. Like my granpa, eating peas on a knife. And the smell of all the food.
    The running around in the kitchen, of grand mothers, and trying to stay out of the way, as a child, under the kitchen table. Thank you. Have not thought of this in years. Plus bring on the biscuts!

  33. 11-17

    Oh my, what a grand name – LUSTER. I love it! And I love how you recount your childhood memories of food Suzanne. And, by the way, that photo of Weston is precious. Simply precious. :yes:

  34. 11-17

    Mmm, nothing is as evocative to me of time and place as the food (and the smells of the food).

    But you know, your contribution of food lasts in more than just memories. Your cooking has nourished your family in body and soul, and the evidence is in those 3 strong, healthy young people you’re sending out into the world. Plus, they know the difference between real food and the pale imitation of it which is offered for sale. They know that food, that most primal need, is something they can provide for themselves. And they know that someone cared enough about them to provide them with wholesome, tasty nourishment. That’s no small accomplishment.

  35. 11-17

    I totally agree!

  36. 11-18

    This is so true and I need to be reminded of it. Whether it’s nursing our babies or taking a casserole to a family who has lost someone, FOOD IS LOVE.

  37. 11-18

    How funny, Amy! I could tell, too! Both my grandfathers were elders,and one was a preacher, too.

  38. 11-23

    I’m sure they already remember. Especially Ross. Your grandkids will remember, too!

  39. 11-30

    I remember pistachio pudding pies , sometimes at thanksgiving but most of the time mom made them for christmas and easter (and ironically my dad and I would eat a majority of them) on occasion there was pumpkin pie :). (aaaahhhh the memories) yet my hubby and son make fun of me because I’ve started making more homemade stuff instead of doing the store bought , though my son is starting to show an interest in learning to make bread :) , maybe we can build memories on that (I hope) :)

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