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Familiar Foods

Recently my neighbor had to have one of her cats put to sleep. It just so happened that I made chocolate chip cookies that day. Knowing how much she always enjoys my homemade goodies, and thinking that a little chocolate wouldn’t go amiss after a rough day, I decided to give her some.

She was very grateful, and the next morning she even told me, “Those cookies were a lifesaver.”

Her level of appreciation surprised me. Certainly they weren’t a literal lifesaver, but emotionally they must have helped even more than I had expected.

Then I remembered a passage from Mary Pipher’s Seeking Peace: “[A] worldwide cure [for a variety of ailments] seems to be the tastes and smells of familiar foods, especially those that remind us of our childhoods and family…. When I tasted [them], I tasted something deeper than foods; I tasted home. I tasted time.” (p. 165)

In that context, the comment made more sense. If my neighbor is anything like me, one of my favorite childhood smells is a kitchen perfumed by the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The scent alone is comforting, conjuring up images and feelings of earlier times, of innocence and simple happiness. Eating them only intensifies those connections, especially since the idea of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies is one that seems ingrained in our society as an association with home and familiarity.

The fact that the cookies were made from scratch probably also helped. Store-bought, packaged cookies wouldn’t be as fresh, and even ones from a bakery aren’t quite the same. Knowing the person who made them, and that the baker put care and attention and intention into them, seems to enhance the flavor and overall experience (see my post Feeding with Love – Vitamin L).

It’s one of the reasons I so enjoy baking. The process brings up memories and good feelings, as well as the anticipation of sharing the results with others and seeing their reaction as they, too, experience the connection and timelessness that comes with these familiar foods. And it makes me even gladder that my cookie making coincided with my neighbor’s sad day, and that it offered at least a little comfort.

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