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Food for Thought: The Connecting Power of the Kitchen

Joined: 11/23/2014
Posts: 1
“It was very pleasant to savor its aroma, for smells have the power to evoke the past, bringing back sounds and even other smells that have no match in the present.”
– Laura Esquivel

This quote is found in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate during a moment in which the aroma of a familiar dish is able to remind the protagonist of her lost identity, and, ultimately, heal her broken spirit. Esquivel’s novel centers around the kitchen, and the power it has to bring people together, even if they do not particularly wish for this to happen. Clothing styles cycle in and out of fashion, music changes constantly, and, in the end, even the written word can be lost. However, food, mundane as it is, can transcend generations, centuries, and even cultures long dead, as everyone must eat, and most prefer to eat the food that they grew up with.

Food is peculiar in that it is something that seldom changes with time, which imbues it with the power to be a point of common ground between generations, and gives the kitchen its connecting power. My family has several secret recipes that mothers pass on to children, as their mothers did to them. One of the most memorable is a fruit salad recipe that my great-grandmother passed on to my mother, who, in turn, passed it on to me and my sisters. My mother’s grandmother made her solemnly swear that she would never tell anyone but her own daughters her treasured fruit salad recipe, and she made good on the promise. She, in turn, made my sisters and I swear to tell no one but our own daughters the recipe. Every year, on Christmas or Thanksgiving, the secret fruit salad is made, which usually prompts my mother to tell a story about her grandmother. Though I never knew the woman of whom my mother speaks so fondly, the fact that I am able to assemble the much-loved dish that she concocted allows me to feel as though I have a small piece of her with me. I am able to carry on her legacy through her secret fruit salad.

I find it both wonderful and interesting that the kitchen has the ability to produce common ground – after all, though the kitchen has undergone drastic changes over the centuries, the products that it produces remain, more or less, the same. Consider, for example, the Germanic molasses cookie recipe in the possession of my paternal grandmother. According to the lore that comes with this recipe, this type of cookie has been made practically since time immemorial. Before this recipe was written down in Old Europe, it was passed down orally. Because this recipe was loved by so many people over the generations, I am able to produce the same product in my electric oven that, long ago, a woman like me produced with the use of a primitive wood stove. The culture from which this recipe emerged has changed beyond recognition, but the cookies remain the same. I find it doubtful that this recipe will be lost, for, just as one must sleep when one is tired, one must eat when one is hungry, and when one is hungry, what is more appetizing than a favorite dish? To quote Esquivel once again, “To the table or to bed, you must come when you are bid.”
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