I think each and every one of us has at least one food memory from childhood. You know, that one significant, stand out thing that seems to creep out of the corners of your mind on occasions when we, sometimes without explanation, stop just long enough to let our minds wander freely. For me, it’s my grandmother’s sweet raisin bread. I will have to tell you that at her peak, she was a MEAN baker. I mean, she had skill. To this day I can still, decades, later catch the aroma circling in my brain and tickling the pleasure center that can only be reached by food and a happy memory.
I remember having my hand slapped on many occasions for trying to capture that “perfect slice.” You know the one… that slice that occupies that moist little valley where two “buns” intersect. The slice that made when you sacrifice a bit of the first bread bun, and a sliver of the second bread bun. That little crevice where the goodness came together in a way no other slice of bread could satisfy. Maybe it was just me… Maybe you are a “heel man.” That’s ok too…. for you. But that was MY slice.
Of course, like most things I have desired in my lifetime, it was quite often just a little out of reach. It was fine if you “got lucky” and that magical slice just happened to come to you, in your turn. But you wouldn’t want to invoke Nan’s anger by mutilating her fresh bread to “jump the line” and just grab what you wanted all willy nilly. That just wasn’t allowed. Of course, I often liked to test her limits (go figure)!
I still to this day feel a certain sadness when I think of the time when Pop got diagnosed with “the sugar diabetes” just like his mother before him. Well, let’s just say, that was the day the music died. My great-grandmother, or “Aunt Triffie” as she was known to the entire town, had the sense to become a skilled sugar ninja. Her son however did not inherit her great skills. My grandfather’s sister, aunt Gouldie, was the keeper of all things sugar in my great-grandmother’s life. While she tried valiantly in her efforts as the gatekeeper, she either 1. failed or 2. just kept up a brave front while knowingly “letting things slide.” Either way, unlike her son, Aunt Triffie could routinely be seen eating candy and sharing them with her grandchildren. Topping up her insulin as needed and supposedly hiding it from her daughter with great class and skill. Unfortunately Pop had a much harder task master in his household and sugar disappeared, replaced by splenda. That’s when taste was replaced with a longing for a better time (read: Nan lost her baking skills and I could no longer have my special raisin bread). To this day I have the fondest memories of those times. They are emotionally based memories unfortunately though, completely non-specific, to the point that I can’t even really describe the flavours let alone try to recreate that bread….
The beauty of life however is that time marches on, things change and new experiences create new chapters of happiness. This christmas past I gave Todd a sentimental gift. For those of you who are a part of our personal Facebook feeds, you will probably remember this. I took a very dog-eared, basically sacred, recipe of his mother’s and had it framed. It was in her own handwriting, blemished with the occasional grease stain, yellowed by time, the ink blurred a little by the moisture it had encountered over the years. I’m sure that her DNA is actually in that page, in the form of either her blood, sweat or tears. In truth though, it’s not much of a recipe. I mean no offense here. It LITERALLY isn’t much of a recipe, (that’s why I can show you the picture of it here….) as she never wrote a method it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to recreate it!
Being that it was a gift for Todd though, it was quite a production to accomplish, and truthfully I wasn’t even all that succesful (Todd didn’t get to open it on Christmas morning like I had planned, first because I have no patience or ability to keep a surprise, and secondly because I was deathly afraid that he’d want to make those buns in the lead up to christmas, and I’d have to try to explain why it was no longer in its special secure box of mom’s recipes). In reality, the timing didn’t matter too much. Todd was still struck by the gesture, and the recipe now sits in our kitchen in a very prominent place. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to make a couple of photocopies of the recipe before framing, because I surely do not want to have to bring the framed copy to the counter when making them!
Why is that recipe so important to Todd though? It’s merely a list of ingredients. No method, very little direction at all. That, though, IS why it’s so special. For me it has become a new version of my special raisin bread. For Todd however, it was something passed from his mom to him. ONLY him. These buns were a feature of his family gatherings as a child. They were his mother’s culinary signature. Where the recipe came from we aren’t quite sure. No one else was ever able to recreate them. Todd himself states that his version is a reasonable facsimile but not the “real thing.” But it was a recipe he learned at his mother’s side. It’s more than the buns (or the pizza crust or the cinnamon rolls which she also made from the base recipe) which he ate as a child, it was a gift of love from her to him then and it continues to be a gift of love each and every time he makes them for someone else. In truth you can be sure you have become a significant person in his life if you are given the opportunity to taste these, and if I were you I would NEVER pass up that opportunity. Even I don’t get to eat them often, (especially now that we are calorie counting), but when I do it is sublime!!! The softest pillowy cushions of air shaped like a bun. The golden shell letting the faintest steamy warmth escape (you have to eat one as soon as you can touch them without burning your fingers…. that’s when they are the best!!!) kind of warms you in a way that nothing else ever will. I’m not sure how she got that into the recipe, and it’s a mystery I do not care to solve. I just want to eat and feel like a kid again, waiting for that slap on my wrist that I still miss so much.
I hope today you can enjoy your own happy memories (food related or otherwise)….