Smells are going to be a big part of our memories

Smells are going to be a big part of our memories

Last week I told you about wine-making and sourdough-bread experiments, and I’m happy to say the wine came out quite well: not as great as a winery with barrels and all that professional stuff would produce, but delicious nonetheless, and the process was fun.

The bread-making brought some lessons, chief of which is to not use the little linen cloth inside a proofing basket. I did one with and one without the cloth, and the one with the cloth stuck to the dough and made for a sloppy-looking, deflated loaf. But they baked up fantastically well and were full of nifty interior holes and tasted wonderful.

Now I understand what “oven spring” means, as they rose right up as the natural yeasts gave their last hurrah in the hot, steamy oven. There were several moments when I asked if it was all worth the work, and the answer is yes.

I’m very fortunate in having a good friend who works in an artisan bakery in Texas who was able to offer plenty of advice, and the starter is now in the fridge on a weekly feeding schedule.

I appreciate it very much when someone who takes the time to read this column mentions something to me about something they appreciated. Such was the case last Sunday in church when I got to hear a few wonderful stories about a gentleman’s memories of his own mother making sourdough bread when he was a boy.

“Sometimes she ran out,” he said, “and she had to go borrow some from a neighbor to get it going again. She baked bread several times a week to feed all of us children.”

A family to whom I’ve been close all my life has suffered a series of difficult times in the last several months, and I’m struck again, in hearing this fellow’s stories of his mom and baking, which happened decades ago, how our memories are tightly tied to food and the experience of sharing food with people we love.

My closest friend’s father, who passed away last year, loved to talk about the things he’d eaten and dishes he liked, and those memories are held close in my heart.

His sister, who also passed last year, was a world-class baker and cook, and all our memories are somehow connected to these impossibly plentiful tables of food with piles of plates and napkins waiting for everyone to take their fill.

Thank God for people to love in our lives and for the memories we make with them, which survive all else once we aren’t able to speak to them anymore.

Surely there’s a specific smell of something cooking that can stir instant memories for you. Scent memories are very powerful and leave indelible imprints in our minds.

To this day, if I pass a woman wearing the perfume my very first girlfriend wore ages ago, I’m right back there. The smell of apple cider puts me in my grandfather’s basement. I can see my mom fussing over a pan of fried zucchini anytime I smell it.

I know tobacco is a big scent trigger for many of you, as I’ve heard over and over again that the smell of a pipe is a comforting thing because it’s a scent memory of a father or grandfather. Probably the first thing you do when you get to a beach is stand there and smell the sea. It’s all very powerful.

These are things to remember in our lives. If you’re cooking something good, drag the others away from the TV and make them come smell it and reward their effort with a kiss.

There’s the line from the movie of the same name: “I think it [makes God angry] if we pass by the color purple and don’t notice.” If life is all about making memories, then remember smells are going to be a big part of those memories. Don’t let them pass by without notice.

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