I recently finished the book Edible Memory by Jennifer Jordan. Jordan’s musings about the deeply intertwined relationship between food and culture spoke right to my soul. She dives deep into the psychology, sociology, and history of the human connection to flavors in foods- the way we attach so much meaning and memory to the food we eat, and the way those flavors connect us to each other.
This book is swimming with smart notions about food and culture, but here is one of my favorites: edible memory can be found in any food, whether it’s a Snickers candy bar or a locally grown heirloom tomato, and each memory is equally significant regardless of the food it is attached to. An example: my great-grandmother, Grandma Pope, loved Taco Bell. When my mom, sister, and I went to visit her, we would stop at Taco Bell first and pick up lunch. We shared many stories and laughs over those fast food lunches. My great-grandfather, Grandpa Griffiths, was an acclaimed watermelon gardner (at least as far as his tiny hometown was concerned). I’ve heard countless tales of his watermelon patch from my family, and the quality of every grocery store melon eaten at family gatherings is compared against the memories of his homegrown pickings. I can’t crack open a juicy summer melon without thinking of him. While watermelon is obviously the healthier food, these memories are equal in significance because of the people they connect me to.
This idea of nondiscriminatory edible memory has me pondering the mindset behind most healthy eating advice, which basically boils down to “eat this, not that.” From a scientific perspective, this mindset is sensible and rational. But humans are largely nonsensical, irrational creatures. We are far more complicated than this black and white advice implies, especially when it comes to food!
So the questions is, how do we change our eating habits for the better whilst preserving our deeply emotional, significant food memories? How do we cast unhealthy food choices aside (ahem, Taco Bell) while paying respects to the people and places they transport us to? I have a feeling that we can have our health, and our memories too.
How? Think of your edible memories as ingredients. They are not permanently bound to food, but instead can easily be sprinkled in to new, plant-based versions of recipes. It is up to you to preserve them, and it is in your best interest to do so. Research shows that we feel physically more satisfied by food when it holds a deeper, emotional meaning (maybe this is why “diet” food is so unsatisfying and easy to overeat!).
This is why James and I like to hack traditionally unhealthy recipes. Vegan Aussie Fries remind me of many, many family dinners at Outback Steakhouse, Raspberry Jam Bars conjure up memories of our wedding rehearsal dinner, brownies connect James with his grandma, and Vegan Horseshoe Sandwiches transport us to lunch out with high school friends on cherished half days of school. We took that very special ingredient from the original and added it in to the new and improved.
Now, about that apple crisp! I love my family dearly, but I think they would agree that the kitchen is not where they prefer to spend their time. They each have a few signature dishes, then fill in the gaps with just-add-water cuisine. So when my grandma’s friend raved about my grandma’s “homemade apple pie” to me and my sister, we stared back in confusion. My grandma is a busy lady- still working, traveling, and horseback riding- leaving little time (and little interest?) for the meticulous process of pie baking. We’d had her famous mac ‘n cheese and her bun-in-the-oven breakfast special (a hamburger bun toasted a little too long in the oven and topped with butter), but never her made-from-scratch apple pie. I haven’t yet asked her where this pie recipe came from or what spurred her to start making it (or why she was keeping her pie baking skills a secret), but eventually my sister and I had the pleasure of devouring a slice of her elusive pie. We love to tell this story and lovingly tease my grandma about her secret culinary talents. Apple pie will forever remind me of her. Although it’s not listed in the recipe below, when I make this Inside-Out Apple Crisp I add a heaping spoonful of this edible memory (and a scoop of Vegan Cinnamon Ice Cream for good measure).
We hope you liberally add your own memories to our recipes. Nothing would make us happier.
- 4 apples
- ⅓ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons cold vegan “butter” (Earth Balance)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 bananas, peeled and frozen
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Remove the core of the apples, creating a well. Do this using an apple corer, pairing knife, or spoon.
- Add oats, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, pecans, and maple syrup to a mixing bowl and smash together with a fork until well-combined. Pack filling into the wells of the prepared apples.
- Arrange the apples in a baking dish (an 8x8-inch Pyrex dish or similar). Pour about 1 cup of hot water into the bottom of the dish and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil. Continue baking uncovered until the apples are soft, an additional 15-20 minutes. You can test the apples by poking a paring knife into the interior of the apple; it should slide into the apple easily with no resistance. The skin on the apples will also become wrinkled and soft by the end of cooking.
- While the apples cool, make the ice cream. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Serve apples with the vegan ice cream scooped on top. Eat immediately.