Writer’s Note: After finishing my recent column on travel memories, I asked Jim about food memories. Did others remember special meals? I decided to ask, and this column contains many responses.
Fair warning: reading these will make you hungry! — GP
Special Food Memories!
James Beard wrote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience”. I agree. Beloved foods rarely reflect one cuisine or culture. The more we experience different foods, the more we realize that Beard was right — food is common ground.
Jim’s favorite food memory is the Moules Mariniere that he enjoyed on the causeway near Mont-Saint-Michel, an island in northern France. The dish featured mussels cooked in shallots, garlic, white wine, and butter. He loved it so much that when we returned, he asked me to prepare it for him — which I did.
As with so many memories, this meal’s location added to the dinner’s enjoyment. We had made reservations to spend the night on the mount, choosing to stay there rather than return to a hotel away from the island. When the shops closed and tourists and non-residents had, Jim thought the island “mystical” as darkness settled in. We strolled through the silent streets, feeling that we had been transported back in time.
Related to Travel . . .
Jim isn’t alone with travel food memories. Mary Kathryn Berry loved the mussels and salmon in the Scottish Highlands. She also remembers delicious crab cakes at a Washington DC hotel near Arlington Cemetery — “Usually hotel cooking is so-so, but this was gourmet good!”
Location often “makes” the meal. Doug Breckinridge loved dining at the Washington Press Club in summer 1969 with his family. He had Caesar salad and Maine lobster, the first time he had had either. “The bill was $55, which I could not believe because I had never seen a restaurant bill that high before,” Doug said. “I bragged about it for months!” Paula and Roger Walker dined in the restaurant at the top of the Twin Towers in NYC. “We had steak,” Paula remembers. “The meal was great, but the view was spectacular!”
JB Potts III remembers getting an unexpectedly fine meal — from an automat in the Frankfurt, Germany, airport. “The Salad Nicoise was GREAT.” Amanda Fritzer also enjoyed meals in Germany. Although favorites like schnitzel were available year-round, one month meant a special treat. “May was when “spargel” (giant white asparagus) was in season,” Mandy says. “They are delicious with Hollandaise sauce!”
Ro Worley remembers trips to Pensacola Beach with her aunt during the ‘60’s and not just for the food. “My aunt would set up our marine biology lab with microscope and other equipment,” Ro recalls. “She made the best ham sandwiches, served with Musselman’s applesauce. We followed up with ice cream cones from Tastee Freeze on the beach. It was not the meal; it was the experience.”
New Orleans provides great food memories. For Burg Ransom, it’s Crabmeat Yvonne at Galatoire’s. “Lump crabmeat, artichoke hearts, and Portabella Mushrooms,” Burg writes. “And it’s usually preceded by a bowl of turtle soup. There’s not a better meal served on the planet.”
The memory of a small cake slightly larger than a cupcake served in the cafeteria inside Schwegmann’s is the one that “haunts” Sue Nawas. When she and husband Rifat were doing residencies in New Orleans, they took the children almost every Saturday morning to grocery shop. “We would order four of these cakes with tea. I’ve been looking for that recipe ever since.”
Lou Davenport says nothing beats the beignets at Morning Call. “Who knew ‘fried dough’ could be so good?” Lou says. Freida Bastoe’s special NOLA memory is more about a person than a meal. “We were at an Asian restaurant in New Orleans,” Freida says. “Who came and sat right next to us? Paula Deen! We shared food from both tables. She was kind and spoke with us the entire meal.”
Related to Family . . .
Not surprisingly, many most cherished food memories relate to family and home. Tency Tarver loved getting malts from Seale Lilly with her daughters. Kokomo’s strawberry pie was a cold treat that Patti Orlando enjoyed, even though she doesn’t like strawberries or pie! For Ruth Ulrich, it was her first meal at the Warehouse with Mark. “I have no memory what we ate, but we became engaged right after eating there,” she says. “It was the most important meal of my life!”
Grandparents often create food memories. Fried chicken, rice and gravy, and homemade rolls made by her Ma-ma are special foods Cathy Brown loved — especially when she got the “pulley bone”. Cheri Hicks remembers helping her mom make chicken and dumplings — still a family favorite. “We would cook the chicken, pinch the dough, and throw it in the broth,” Cheri says. “It was so good!”
Charity Ford remembers her “Pappy’s” meals shared with her. “My Pappy was a simple man. I looked forward to those canned Vienna sausages and saltine crackers with a glass of instant iced tea, stirred briskly so it had foam on top — just the way I liked it,” Charity says. “In no way was that meal fancy or a delicacy, but I smile and tear up just thinking about it.” Mike Duty’s favorite food memory is a “. . . very simple homemade tomato soup with onions and served with saltine crackers. Mama’s homemade soup was simple but addictive.”
Kathy Patrick loved spending the night with her grandparents. Her grandfather, Henry Biedenharn, loved to experiment. “He might cook the same thing three different ways simultaneously,” Kathy remembers. “When I was engaged, he let me pick my ‘last supper’. I chose his seafood crepes which were the best!”
Linda Hart-Berkemeyer spent time with Kathy’s great-grandparents, the Dixons in Sterlington. “Saturdays we were at the table with fried chicken and rabbit on the lazy Susan,” Linda says. “We were noisy, but at noon we became silent. That was when Paul Harvey came on and Granddaddy had to hear that!” For Julie Fisher, lunch of roast beef, potatoes, and pickled beets with her grandfather meant an opportunity to learn fractions! “We were usually the last two at the table, and he would explain fractions to me using a beet slice. Although it was a family joke about how long it took him to eat, I loved to have him there as we did fractions and ate those pickled beets.”
Some food memories are bittersweet. Ronald Hogue remembers having lunch with his father at Brocato’s restaurant in Ferriday. “My father had radiation-induced leukemia and had received platelets at the Ferriday hospital. This was the last time I had lunch with Daddy. He passed away a few weeks after,” Ronald remembers.
Richard Gentry remembers long-ago family Thanksgiving meals with turkey and dressing, ham, English peas -- all the traditional foods. He says he ate at the kids’ table because he was the youngest, but by the time he was old enough to be at the adult table, he didn’t want to go (the kids clearly had more fun). “I had three family members die within 3 months of each other,” Richard says, “so we don’t do Thanksgiving anymore.”
Adventures . . .
Carole Crowe remembers a meal that resulted from Katrina. A refugee family spent about 9 months in Monroe, housed by Carole’s Sunday School class. Just before moving back home, they cooked dinner for the class. “That was hands down the best meal I ever ate,” Carole says. “Meat, seafood, all the trimmings — wonderful people, wonderful meal, great memory!”
John McQueen remembers a special New Year’s Day breakfast. There were only three guests – John, his wife, and a lifelong friend. The menu? “We had freshly made blynnies, Beluga caviar, and Moet champagne.” John says. “We were in Lake Charles, and a friend of a friend was working on an oil rig in Russia. When he left, my friend jokingly told him to bring back a tin of caviar for my wife. When he got back, he called us and asked when she wanted it. He had smuggled it back to the States!”
When Jerry Holmes was conducting tours abroad, he collected countless food memories. Among his favorites was a dinner in Rome. Alton Calhoun was the designated “restaurant hunter” and selected The Mermaid Tavern for the evening. In spite of an unhappy doorman, the madcaps went in for dinner. They saw no other diners as they were escorted to an upstairs dining area. “Our waiters were a bit nervous,” Jerry remembers. During the second course, two men that Jerry describes as being from “Mafia central casting” entered the room with shoulder holsters visible. Soon two elderly gentlemen came in and sat at a table across the room. Their guards stood at the windows, keeping watch throughout the meal. When Jerry went to the men’s room, he was escorted. “Patti Randall enjoyed humming the theme from The Godfather,” Jerry remembers. “She wanted to take pictures . . .” When they came downstairs, there were 12 men in the main room, with no food. “We died laughing when we got outside,” Jerry says, “but we were thankful that the ‘died’ was metaphorical.”
Julia Child wrote, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Bon Appetit, fellow food-lovers! You are indeed the best people!