Love, Food, and Memories

Personal chef Jeanne Benink celebrates love of friends and family through our unifying memories of good food shared.

There is abundant literature out there in our big, wide world that supports the fact that humans, when recalling their earliest memories of love, often have a special person or special food (or both) wrapped up in that memory. For me, this is so true.

I can recall being a little girl, certainly under five years old, accompanying my mom on a walking trip up the road to visit my grandma. Upon arrival, my grandma would always have a pot of coffee on the stove and usually some type of homemade cookie (my most beloved were her date-stuffed sugar cookies). We three would sit at her kitchen table, drinking coffee (lest you modern parents jump to judgment, this was very common among farm folk, and us kiddies drank a mixture of 1/3 coffee, 1/3 sugar and 1/3 cream, and we all turned out just fine), munching cookies and discussing everything that was happening with everyone in the county.

I can still smell grandma’s kitchen and recall how special I felt to be included in their grown-up time together. I can feel her tablecloth under my fingers, picture the cat that was ever-present on her lap, and hear their low, lady’s talk. The love in that tiny room was palpable.

I tell this little tale because the love edition of any magazine, especially around St. Valentine’s Day, can be depressing, off-putting, or simply not read by people who aren’t themselves currently in a relationship. I hope to put a positive spin on love for everyone who reads this article. Let’s celebrate love in all of forms—love of dear friends, love of family (both biological and of choice), love of home and all of the memories that we possess that recall love (and food) in some positive way!

In preparing for this article, I went online and asked for people’s input on the foods that they absolutely love and why they feel that way. To say that I was tickled to read everyone’s responses would be quite an understatement. The responses made me realize once again that we are all so different, and all so the same. Mark L. is Brazilian and he described his parents making fejuada (black beans, pork, onions, garlic and spices, slow cooked and served over rice) and how that transported him back to boyhood. Shelley G. extolled the virtue of matzo ball soup. Kathleen R. loved her neighbor’s pulled pork nachos because they signify that it’s Sunday and time for some R&R in front of the football game. Dawn H. seems to have a real appreciation for pierogies, her grandma’s meatloaf, and pot roast, all of which are family favorites.

Jay talked about collard greens being a part of every holiday celebration that she can remember. Jean loves Julegrot, which is a Swedish rice pudding at Christmas time. Kellie loves a family favorite called Crube/Krube/Krub, a baseball-sized potato dumpling that you stuff with either ham or bacon and then boil and serve cut in half with butter, salt, and pepper. Laura told me about her grandma (whom I’d met many moons ago) and her amazing chocolate torte that she made for special occasions. Stevie (and several other readers polled) has a soft spot for chicken potpie. And for my wife, it’s basmati rice because they moved around a lot when she was little and her mom always made a pot of basmati rice with the first dinner in each new home they moved to.

What was so amazing in reading all of these was how all of them were related to family, friends, and great occasions. As I thought, foods transport us to another place and time that seems to hold happy memories for us. I hope that in reading this article, you’ve also recalled some of your own memories that hold a special place in your heart. Remember those times, remember the joy, and remember that love comes in many forms and we need to celebrate the beauty that’s in each of them. I’ll leave you with a little piece of love, from my kitchen to yours:

Grandma’s Date-filled Sugar Cookies  

1 c sugar

2 sticks butter (softened)

2 eggs, beaten

1 Tbs milk

2 tsp baking powder

2 c all purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

Cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the beaten eggs and milk. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients, then slowly mix the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture. Once the dough has come together, wrap it in cellophane wrap and refrigerate it for an hour. While this is happening, make the date filling; I put mine in our small food processor to get the mixture really paste-like.

1 c dates, finely chopped

1/2 c sugar

2-3 tsp flour

1/2 cup water

This mixture should be quite thick.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to about 1/4 inch. Cut 3- or 4-inch rounds from the dough. Place a tablespoon or a bit more of the date mixture into the center of a round, place another round on top, the crimp the edges with a fork. Place these onto a cookie sheet and bake until the cookies are a golden brown.

Enjoy with a cup of coffee and someone you love.