(…) smells more easily connect with “episodic” than “semantic” memories (i.e. life-history memories as opposed to “recognition of a phenomenon” memories), and also because of the tendency for smell memories to be emotionally charged (Vroon, 1997: 95, 104). This emotional charge is touched on by Sperber in trying to place a smell that one is re-experiencing “one may revive ‘original desire one had to identify it” (1975: 122). Or to quote a food author discussing the phenomenon of taste memory: “the hunger is in the memory, not in the biscuit, berries and cream…” (Lust 1998: 175) P.310
Sutton, D (2005) ‘Synesthesia, Memory, and the Taste of Home’, in Korsmeyer, A, (ed.) The Taste Culture Reader, Experiencing Food and Drink. Great Britain: Berg
Could people’s childhood food memories, their ‘life-history memories’, be part of the answer?
Although my first idea had withered on the vine, my interest hadn’t waivered. It remained the same, people’s identities and where they site themselves.This is in part due to my ‘split identity’, born in London to an American born mother with Russian/Hungarian grandparents, and a father with Hungarian parents and grandparents. The ‘split identity’ becomes apparent when viewed through the prism of my questions. The first question being my original idea, whilst the second one is a more nuanced way of teasing out the information required for my research without my participants immediately framing it as being about identity and belonging.
- What food/dish do you identify with you country of origin?
Roasts, pies, sausage and mash and crumbles.
- What is your strong childhood food memory?
My main memory is of Hungarian food, especially the cakes. Apple Strudel with flaky buttery pastry, filled with apples, sultanas and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Steam and the smell of baking in the air.
It’s only by asking the second question that my Hungarian ancestry reveals itself.
I decided to test my theory by posting the second question on Facebook and asking those that agreed to respond with a photo of the memory and some text. My ‘sample’ is somewhat problematic as they’re friends, acquaintances, people known to me. There was no reason beyond just knowing them for choosing to sample my contacts on social media, nor could I link it cogently to any research I had done. There was no rationale to my choice and so, as with my other ideas, childhood food memories fizzled out. However, the answers that I received were fascinating and as people took the time to find or take a photo, added some text and sent it, I thought I’d post the results.
I wasn’t sure how to categorise the responses. By country? By region? That felt a bit prescriptive. So, rather than group people’s responses geographically, I’ve arranged them according to the food type; traditional food, junk food, sweets/desserts, breakfast food etc, and the memory itself. In some cases this results in people from the same country or region being grouped together. Interesting.
About my strongest childhood food memory, I can say that it’s a cereal called Rice Krispies, because when my mom was alive she get used to give me that cereal at my breakfast with a chocolate milk. There is something else that reminds me my childhood, it’s a chocolate butter called COVO, but unfortunately I couldn’t found an image of that product itself, I just found the promotional image which was a bear. I think this is because nobody produces that butter nowadays. it´s reminds me my childhood because I liked to eat that butter so much that I used to spread it on almost everything I could to eat. And reminds me my mom because she always bought that butter for me. Colombia (No photo supplied)
I spent the first 5 years of my life living in a flat above my parents’ business – a travel agency. Opposite was an ultra 60’s hairdressers owned by a showman called Leonard Poutney. The attached film was a little Pathe film made there. My food memory was being taken over to Poutney’s in the afternoon to have a rare beef sandwich with mustard and, I think, a glass of milk. Lucy who ran the bar area of the hairdresser would look after me for half an hour or so. Lucy’s main claim to fame was that she was Monagesque (or whatever you call someone from Monaco). This in 1960’s Hounslow made her slightly exotic. England (No photo supplied)