Menu Banner

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cooking and Memories

Last night I peeled a few potatoes to go along with dinner. Along with making salads, this is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. At least until last November, when I cooked Thanksgiving dinner with a good friend of mine. As we were peeling potatoes, she started to talk about her father, who passed away a few years ago from cancer. She was very close to him and the pain of that loss is still quite tangible. She recounted how her dad was an amazing potato peeler, super fast and efficient at this seemingly random task. I learned that he had honed his potato peeling skills in the military, where he regularly rotated through that duty. Peeling potatoes always reminds her of her father, this good man that she misses so dearly. And now peeling potatoes reminds me of my friend and that moment we had together reminiscing about someone so dear to her.

peeling potatoes2web

Smells, tastes, sounds…they all can elicit powerful memories. Last night as I was peeling away at my potatoes, I was thinking how the act of preparing food can cause the same flood of memory. Nate’s Gram Maynard was an angel who we all loved more than I can describe. The night I heard the news that she had succumbed to a very quick and painful bout of pancreatic cancer, I was in the process of making dinner. I hung up the phone and cried my way through chopping tomatoes. The song I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You by Colin Hay was playing while I chopped, which further fed the sadness I was feeling. To this day, every time my knife breaks through the skin of a tomato, the emotion of that night overcomes me.  Sometimes I cry, but most often chopping tomatoes simply causes me to take a moment to remember this great woman I was blessed to have in my life.

The act of cooking and preparing food is oftentimes an act of love. We are nourishing ourselves and those close to us in the most basic and necessary way possible. It comes as no surprise to me that the act of making food can be so strongly associated with certain memories.  I am grateful for these moments that force me to ponder the people I love, to think about why I love them, why I am grateful they are in my life and, in some cases, why I miss them so much.

I’ve been feeling very subdued and thoughtful the last few weeks. Good friends of ours just suffered a tragic loss in their family – a young, vibrant, wonderful 19-year old boy who had everything to offer the world who fell victim to the debilitating effects of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and took his own life.  My heart has broken for him, for his amazing parents and for his family members. And I have been feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for every moment I have with my own children and husband. I am hugging them more and playing more Go Fish {and trying not to cry at the drop of a hat}. Life is too short, I need to embrace every moment I am blessed with.

As you prepare your food, let it be an act of love rather than a simple, mundane task. Let the act of cooking remind of you a time gone by. And while you’re at it, hug your loved ones extra hard tonight.


  1. 1

    Touching post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. 2

    i do think its amazing how things like songs, smells, or the act of peeling potatoes can bring up memories so strongly. great post

    just wanted to add that I am bipolar and was diagnosed at age 19. I am now 29 married with 3 kids. It is not always a death sentence. it just makes life harder. Relationships are hard to make and maintain, and holding down a job or making it through college can sometimes be impossible. ( i never was able to do it but receive SSD) but with medications, and a loving support system it is possible to survive the hard times and have a fulfilling life. Plans change from what was my original goals but I feel i am still making an important contribution through my children. I hope that his family is comforted and that their story can bring awareness to how serious mental disorders are, but at the same time i want people to know there is hope if you or a loved one are diagnosed.

  3. 3
    Jane Maynard

    milla, thank you SO much for your comment. it is wonderful hearing your success story. sadly, brian committed suicide about 10 days ago. he was receiving excellent treatment, sadly it wasn’t enough in his case.

    I am SO happy to hear stories like yours…you are TRULY inspiring and I can’t tell you how much I admire what you have done.

    Thank you!!!

  4. 4

    Food was an important part of my life growing up… I lost my mother two years ago and I still have moments when I almost call her — sometimes for a recipe or for cooking advice.

    Preparing food definitely is an act of love.

    I’m enjoying your posts.

  5. 5

    This was a very moving post, thank you for putting it up. My grandpa and I had very similar food tastes and preferences (I always think of him when my boyfriend pokes fun at my food pickiness) but the thing that makes me think of him most is Mickey Mouse pancakes. We always make them for him when he visited and he loved it. I can’t wait to start a family and begin creating valuable and rich memories like I ones I carry with me.

    I visited the site for Brian, it is so very sad to see such a handsome, smart young man with such a bright future succumb to such a thing. My heart goes out to his family; the obituary nearly brought me to tears and I can’t imagine what they are going thru now.

    Thank you again for bringing light to the little things in life that often get taken for granted.

  6. We lost my grandfather to cancer last year in January. The food that reminds us of him most is chili. He used to make the best homemade chili ever. No one can duplicate it.

    It is true though, be thankful for the loved ones around you and cherish every moment you have. I’m sorry to hear about your friends son.

  7. 7
    Jane Maynard

    I love hearing all your food memories…thank you for sharing and feel free to keep doing so!

  8. 8

    What a beautiful post, Jane. My own food memory is of the canned peaches that my Grandma used to make…so good! My husband’s grandfather passed away about a year ago and I was touched by how many of his grandchildren’s memories focused around the homemade bread he made weekly. I like the idea of creating food traditions with our families–I think it ties us together in a really tangible (and tasty!) way.

  9. 9

    This is beautiful, and should be ready by many, many more people. You should try to submit this post to cooking magazines, the food section of the newspaper, etc. You have a real talent for expressing yourself and drawing out emotion in others. Thanks for sharing.

  10. 10

    what a lovely post. I’m so sorry for your friends’ loss, how tragic.
    my parents are both gone, but we remember them whenever we make my dad’s scallion potatoes or mom’s fried chicken.

  11. Oh, Jane. Your words here are so touching. Your and Brian’s family are in my prayers.

  12. Jane you have put this so beautifully. I think this is very much a part of why I love cooking so much, because I love to show my love for my friends and family (and even strangers) through something I’ve created in the kitchen. With something as universal as food and the need to eat, I think it would be hard pressed to not feel the love behind a home cooked meal.

    I’ve really been struggling with my 4 yr old lately. He definitely has some issues that we need to help him through and it’s been a battle of wills lately at home. Quite honestly, I didn’t really enjoy being around him much of the time because he’s been so mean lately. This afternoon we took a break from it all, played trains together and made some homemade chocolate pudding. It was the most fun we have had together in a while and so worth it. The kitchen was of course a disaster after wards, but he took such joy in what he had helped make and was so excited to share it with the rest of the family after dinner. I could go on and on. I love how food brings us all together. The kitchen is definitely one of the happiest places in my home.

    My heart goes out to you and your family’s friends. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but I hope it brings you peace! (hugs)

  13. 13

    Not surprisingly, networks of neurons comprising the olfactory (smell) system are closely tied into the limbic system (a set of brain structures that mediate emotion and long term memory). This can at least partially explain the salience of certain smells and foods in regards to their association with particular memories and emotions. Evolutionarily speaking, this makes sense, as it would be very advantageous for less advanced brains to associate nourishment with particular situations.

    including the nearby amygdala (the emotional center of the brain that modulates feelings)

  14. 14
    Jane Maynard

    spoken like a true doctor, aaron. 😉 I sure am grateful for this amazing brain we have…it makes life rich and beautiful.

  15. 15

    Jane, I have tears running down my face. My mom passed away on 08/08/08 and I still miss her deeply. When we cooked together, my job was making the salad. It was a chore at the time, but now when I make salads, I think of her and her love. I’m so sorry about your loss. My daughter was diagnosed recently with depression and cut herself so badly that she needed sixteen stitches. I’m scared stiff and praying to God to take care of her, to let her heal.

  16. Thank-you for this post, what a beautiful reminder to take the time for and ENJOY the things that matter the most. Thank-you!

  17. 17

    Cheese sandwiches: white bread, with a little butter and cheddar cheese on top, open-faced. That brings strong memories of pool-side get-togethers with my Swedish grandmother. Always loved them when we went over, often paired with Sprite. 🙂 Always enjoy making them and remembering.

  18. 18

    Beautiful post. My cousin’s youngest son hung himself just over a year ago. No one knew he suffered from depression until they read the note he left behind. 17 years old, straight “A” student, Eagle scout, faithful seminary student, favorite uncle to his nephews and yet he was dealing with an overwhelming sadness he couldn’t deal with. He died on October 4, 2008. My cousin and her husband have been hosting HUGE neighborhood Halloween party for years and years. That year they were to buried in grief to do it and yet on Halloween night all of their neighbors, past and present, came to their home with food and party stuff. Lots of tears.

    My memories of my grandparents are mostly about food…homemade vanilla ice cream in the summer covered with raspberries we had just picked from their garden…fresh corn, tomatoes, and baby potatoes…

    I include my children with as much of the kitchen “work” as possible. I hope they are learning about good food and remember these times with warmth!

  19. 19
    Jane Maynard

    oh, thank you again everyone for such beautiful comments!

  20. 20
    Barbara Ann Baker

    Thank you, Jane, for reminding me of and humbling me to all that is precious in my life, to cherish the blessings, and to overlook the trivial.

  21. Very touching post-and just what I needed today.

    My brother in law passed away on Thursday after a 7 month battle with cancer. He was the best man in our wedding and the love of my sister’s life. Here I sit, 800 miles away, unable to be with my family-and the only thing that soothes me is a hug from my husband and cooking. I’ve been in the kitchen all weekend.

  22. jennifer, I’m so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how you feel right now…if I could hug you right now I would! much love to your sister, too.

  23. 23
    Nikki CB

    Thank you Jane. Beyond sad what the Taylors are going through

    I don’t get to see my father very much anymore, but still remember happy times eating bacon with potato chips and french onion dip while playing monopoly. Maybe not the healthiest snacks, but happy memories nonetheless.

  24. 24

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog; I went to the page remembering Brian and am crying and praying for his family right now. Thank you for the reminder to live well.

  25. 25

    Peeling potatoes makes me think of my Dad too. I haven’t lost him yet, but there isn’t a time, when standing at the sink peeling potatoes that I don’t think of him and his quick hands. I lost my Grandma in April and there are times when I catch a whiff of something that reminds me of her, and how I took for granted all the times I saw her and all the things she did for me. She didn’t have any recipes that she was famous for, but she was well known for having Jello, Cool Whip and freeze pops for all her grandkids. I can’t pass red Jello anywhere and not think of Gram!!!

  26. 26

    Your post really resonated with me, and apparently, many others. My mom’s and my husband’s mother’s families have such strong association with cooking and eating. We have shared so many incredible memories preparing and enjoying meals together. Not to mention all of the stories that we get to hear about family, it is like a wonderful personal history lesson almost every time we are in the kitchen together. (My husband is my officail potato peeler, and I adore him for it.)

    Since I stumbled on your blog accidently I was suprised to see a sadly familiar reference. I am a former collegue of Brian’s father, and was also saddened to hear of the family’s loss. My heart and prayers go out to all of the family and friends.


Leave a comment