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Nostalgic Tastes

Published : May 20, 2019

Many fond memories revolve around other people making or serving our favourite dishes with love. Read on for Emily Line's childhood favourites.

By Emily Line

 

One of my earliest food memories involves helping Mum to make a bowl full of apricot and marshmallow mixture into log shapes, then rolling them in coconut, ready to be sliced up and consumed at a party.  I’m not sure in retrospect just how helpful I was, but I can remember having a lot of fun, and emerging from the experience with very sticky fingers, face and hair.  I suspect it may have had some bearing on my kindergarten decision to become a lolly-tester when I grew up!

Somewhat unsurprisingly, I have since grown up to spend my working life with food (though not exactly a lolly tester!), and most of my free time obsessed with finding the ‘best’ gastronomic experiences.  And however unglamorous or tacky it may seem, that apricot log still rates as one of my all time favourite foods.

There are other foods which fall into the same category.  They’re all completely different, most of them are quite plain, and all are seemingly unrelated.  Yet all of them share one common thread, which is that these dishes are what I call my nostalgia foods.

Mum’s leek and lentil soup, which was a weeknight staple throughout childhood, features fairly high on the list, as does Nanna’s spice cake, which won me – much to my parents’ horror – a month’s supply of ice creams in a newspaper kids’ recipe competition when I was about eight.  And a year spent on student exchange in South Africa after finishing high school firmly cemented in me a love of good home-made biltong (beef jerky).

So what is it about these unremarkable foods that make them so special?  They definitely don’t fit into my regular repertoire of cooking or eating, but manage to stick in my mind (and tastebuds!) as comforting reminders of events long gone.  Just like a song which conjures up specific memories each time you hear it, I believe we all have a food memory that links taste with events, places or people.

In the name of research, I set about asking a few friends about their nostalgia foods, and got some revealing answers.  Just like with my nostalgia foods, they seem most often to be simple things.  One friend who has travelled extensively in South-East Asia rates mango lassi on the beach in Thailand as an all-time favourite.  Another loves lemon melting moment biscuits, and I know for a fact that my partner is fond of a blindingly hot Szechuan chicken dish his Mum made when he was a kid (in fact, she still makes it, albeit with a little less chilli after that first experience!).

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that our nostalgia foods always bring about a specific reminiscence, even when we’ve had them countless times.  Nothing can beat the memory of that first experience, and although the circumstances we eat them in or the versions of the dish may change, the lovely memories can always be summoned by eating our special foods.

For a lot of us, many fond memories revolve around other people making or serving our favourite dishes with love.  Yet something to note about these foods is that unlike a lot of other things we love to eat, most of us don’t make them for ourselves, or even have the recipes.

Speaking with older relatives and friends, I heard about several nostalgia foods which have been lost with the passing away of the people who made them.  It somehow brings home the fact that it’s important to pass along the recipes for these dishes, as much to remember special people as the dishes we associate with them. 

So maybe the best way to keep those memories alive is to share them.  Ask for recipes, write them down, and every now and then, take those recipes out and treat others you love to a personal and special dish.

While I like that I don’t get to have my nostalgia foods all the time (it’s part of what makes them special), writing this article has encouraged me to treat myself once in a while.  And who knows - if I share some of my favourite things with others, there just might be a few new nostalgic food memories created!

Leek and Lentil Soup – serves 4

This recipe was discovered by Mum in one of the Women’s Weekly Cookbooks - that fabulous staple series of books which I’m sure can be found in many Australian homes, including mine.

Mum tells me she first tried it for a dinner party, and it was so easy and popular that it became a classic weeknight staple, most often made without the cream to make it suitable for the dairy intolerant members of our family.

It’s worth noting that this soup freezes quite well and makes a great standby dinner with chewy, crusty bread and salad.

 

Apricot Marshmallow Slice – makes about 30 pieces

Another great find by Mum, this delicious treat was brought out at afternoon teas and birthday parties all through my childhood (and yes, it does still make the occasional appearance!).  It’s a great recipe for kids to help with as it requires no cooking and is great fun to mix with little hands.  Just beware the clean-up afterwards!

Although my siblings and I would happily have eaten this slice every day, Mum was smart enough to make it a special occasion food in an effort to teach us healthy eating habits – it’s only now I can say just how glad I am for that sensibility…




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