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The power of music and food memories

Soft serve, who can resist?  

Soft serve, who can resist?


By Mark C. Peyko

Why are music and food memories so potent? Recollections of both will stir up things that conjure almost complete environments. The weather, the time of year, what other people were wearing. Although the memory may be just a flicker, food and music can transport you back to a time and place.

Look at those people on the Doo-Wop specials on PBS. You can see it in their faces – they’re transported back to their teen-age years. No other information is necessary.

I still remember where I was the first time I heard Prince’s “When Doves Cry” or the hordes of teen-age girls on the boardwalk emulating Madonna’s look when she broke with “Borderline.”

With food, the memories are sometimes attached to special occasions or special environments. I have very potent memories of the jelly doughnuts my dad would get at the Marine Bakery in Wildwood after a day at the beach. The doughnuts were the genuine article. Light and airy and obviously homemade. Raspberry was a favorite of mine. (The filling wasn’t that overly sweet, gelatinous red crap that everyone seems to use nowadays.)  That memory is probably 40 years old, but it spurs recollections of many other things: How clean the bakery was, the color of the floor tile, the side screen door that ventilated the shop.

I think most of my food memories are attached to special experiences and people, and, sometimes, mishaps. French toast reminds me of going home for lunch in grade school. Mom, the crunchy egg-dipped white bread, and lots of Mrs. Butterworth’s. Whenever I see a tomato-based vegetable soup, it reminds me of when I dropped my Thermos on the way to school. I still can hear how the broken glass sounded swishing around the canister. Glass and cubed vegetables.

Whenever Aretha Franklin is asked about favorite memories, she invariably mentions food. In one newspaper article, she recalled the turkey dinners at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Detroit. I guess food is a universal comfort – along with music.


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