My mom sent me an e-mail this week with some news:
I had my first corn cakes this morning!!!!
She was pretty excited, as you can tell from the exclamation points, and I was, too. Though we live in different states, only a few days earlier I’d meant to call her with the same news. For real.
I, too, had made corn cakes for breakfast.
Maybe you’re thinking, “What the heck are corn cakes?“
That’s okay. My grandma used to make them. As my grandmother’s health was declining, I wrote an essay about her–about Alzheimers, about memory, about generations, about the beautiful things I see of her in my mom and in myself.
And in that essay I wrote about corn cakes. My mom and I have been perfecting the recipe every summer since. They’re kind of like pancakes except they’re primarily fresh, raw corn, with only a little bit of flour. The corn cooks on the pan as you fry the corn cakes. Amazing.
One of the things I love about food is the way memory gets so attached to it: memories of people, some long lost, and memories of places, some far away.
For example, when I think of what my family called “red beet eggs”–hard boiled eggs that turn pinkish purple from being soaked in jars of pickled beets–I always think of my Grandma Lehman’s house. It’s not like I never ate red beet eggs other places growing up, but that’s where I am transported on the inside when I see a red beet egg. It’s not a concrete memory either, just a feeling in the gut about a place, about a person, about days spent at Grandma’s house during the summer.
Or like when I eat Swedish fish, even now, and I’m instantly taken back to my Pappy Sands’s campground in New Hampshire, the cool cement under my feet while playing ping-pong in the rec hall, the hot cement under my feet around the chorine-strong swimming pool. The reality of that place and that moment becomes present to me in a way that’s impossible given the constraints of time and place.
But it’s real.
I love to cook and to eat memory food, don’t you?
Oatmeal 'skotchies, shoo-fly pie, and chunky applesauce remind me of Mom. Fried eggs and cinnamon pancakes and hamburger- macaroni-goulash remind me of Dad. Eggs in the microwave remind me of my brother. Super pulpy orange juice reminds me of Ty. Grape jelly reminds me of Gail. Dill pickles and ranch dressing remind me of Olivia. Microwaved baloney sandwiches remind me of Uncle Larry. (Did I make that up? It seems real in my memory.)
And the list could go on and on and on.
Food connects us to our loved ones, to earlier generations, and to our own immediate surroundings–our children, our spouses, our neighbors, our local farmers.
Which is really what community is–connections.