Food as Life-Story

June is National Country Cooking Month. This is a really fun one to celebrate as many of our life memories revolve around food. You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate the connection with family—Grandma’s favorite recipe, the special dessert Mom would make for your birthday that made you feel loved, Dad’s camping creations. At a local school Ag day here in southern New Mexico one little boy responded to the question “What is in tamales?” with a loud and enthusiastic “Love!” He gets it!


Smells can evoke tremendous emotion and the smell of food– good, bad or just yuck—often spark intense memories. There is a unique Asian spice that when I smell it takes me straight back to the apartment building my husband and I lived in during college. I was expecting our first child and had to climb the stairwell gauntlet through that strange and permeating odor during months of morning sickness.  The unsuspecting and very nice international students living there never knew. I’m sure they were wonderful cooks but Oi–that smell!


There is an entire range of FOOD FOR THOUGHT stemming from food memories. Mine them for nuggets of delicious stories and dig further back. Particularly if you have some unique ethnic foods that your family enjoys—we probably all do. Where did Grandma’s carne adovada recipe come from, did she learn it from her mother? Maybe its Uncle Tony’s lasagna or that favorite chocolate or buttermilk pie that shows up at every family gathering. What are that dish’s roots and the family events it’s starred at?

Tip—when talking with a relative ask them the story of their favorite food. Why is that dish important? Whom is it associated with? When is a specific time they remember eating it? Who made it? Does this person still prepare this food and if so, is it in the same way? Is there a family cookbook or even a collection of family recipes?


I can remember poring over my mother in law’s extensive recipe collection as a newlywed. Her southern recipes and tastes are what my husband had grown up with and I hadn’t learned to cook those types of dishes. I still use a few of those recipes today and yes, I have learned to make a rockin’ southern gravy! My brother married into a Louisiana family with Cajun roots and he’s passed on the technique for creating a mouth-watering roux.


One of my memoir clients still has her great grandmother’s hand carved rolling pin. This simple food preparation tool has made piecrust for generations of the same family. Their holiday memories are tied to the special treats lovingly created with it. They talk about the many hands that have used it over the years and it is a cherished connection to their history.


Whether working with a children’s memoir class or adults I always ask food questions and encourage students to have fun writing down the memories brought to the surface. You can do the same in your story gathering!

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    Karen Ray

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    Phone: 575-323-1048