The sweet taste of fond memories

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Strawberry cake, pound cake and pear butter. These three things took me on trips to my childhood recently.

A few weeks ago, my mother unwrapped a foil-covered cake on my brother’s dining room table. We were at his house for our 33rd annual Fourth of July get-together, always at Brad and Susan’s home.

When Mom peeled back the foil, she displayed for us something I had not seen since the 1990s (that I recall) — a strawberry cake that looked like her mother had made it from scratch. My grandmother passed away about 25 years ago, but the recipe has lived on through my mother, who recreated it — dare I say — perfectly. It looked just like Grandmother’s, and smelled and tasted just like it, too.

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I was almost like sitting once again in my grandparents’ home in Smithville, Mississippi.

This past weekend, we visited with my parents again. After lunch, my mother brought another foil-wrapped package to her dining room table. It was pound cake, made just like she had made it for the past 50 years — perfectly moist, rich and delicious, with a crumbly crust and decades of memories. She even sliced it with the same Rada stainless steel knife she has used my entire life.

Before I even put a bite into my mouth, I was smiling and taking another trip to my childhood.

That morning, before we loaded up in the car to head to our family in Chunky, my wife prepared sausage and biscuits for the two of us, and the three adult children with us.  She took various jars of jams and jellies from the fridge and set them before us.

One was an unopened jar of home-canned pear butter, made and given to us by my mother. If you’ve never had the sweet, tangy spread with little chunks of pear in it, I offer you my condolences.

I scooped out a bit of the pear butter and put it on my biscuit, then took a bite of the mild fruity goodness with hints of cinnamon. A doorway opened in my brain and I was kicking my feet as my short stubby legs dangled from the chair and I sat as a young child once again enjoying a homemade breakfast.

It’s amazing how food can transport us to another time and place. You probably have similar foods you’re thinking of, or similar experiences. You have other treats that you make or buy — not because of the taste, even if you enjoy them — but because of the memories.

My wife loves the orange circus peanut candies that to me taste like petroleum — because the grandfather who raised her ate them. I love honey and peanut butter on biscuits, partly because my grandfather did. The salted and roasted pecans my brother fixes every Thanksgiving take me back to our grandparents’ home, too.

Familiar tastes, smells, images and sounds impact us more than we may think. I can’t describe the smell of my grandparents’ home, but I know it if I smell it. A certain dull “plink” instantly reminds me of shelling peas into a metal washtub.

Today I am grateful — not just for the sweet tastes of homemade cakes and jams and such — but for the memories of life and love that come with them. I thank God for these, and pray I am helping my children create similar fond memories for themselves.

Brett Campbell can be reached at