May 9, 2011
For this month’s Inviting Writing, we asked you to share stories of lost foods—cereal no longer on the market, hard-to-find diet sodas, dishes you remember from another place or time that you yearn to taste again.
Carole Baldwin is a marine biologist at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and she’s also an expert on food. Her book One Fish, Two Fish, Crawfish, Bluefish explains how to choose the most sustainably harvested (and tastiest) seafood. Her “lost foods” aren’t extinct fish species, but childhood treats that some of you might remember. “I’ve often wanted to share these two memories,” she writes, “largely in hopes that somebody could help me rediscover the foods that produced them.”
Lost Cookies and Beans
By Carole Baldwin
I grew up in the small town of Hampton, South Carolina, which in the 1960s was home to two grocery stores: Red & White and Piggly Wiggly. Red & White carried a type of cookie that I will never forget. The cookies were rectangular, like graham crackers, and covered with fine crystals of sugar. Embedded in the cookie were lots and lots of slivered almonds. I can still taste them today. This was a foreign cookie—Swedish maybe—and the brand name began with a “K,” but that’s the only part of the name I can remember. The cookies came in a blue bag that had a roll top with tabs on the side to hold it closed once rolled up. That’s my first “lost food” memory, and it makes me wonder what other foreign delicacies that store may have harbored.
Another memory also involves foreign foods and is from about the same time. When I was 7, our family made a cross-country trip to visit friends in San Diego. While there, we went across the border to Tijuana. I sort of remember festive colors, music, streets crowded with vendors, etc., but I strongly remember what we had for lunch: bean tostadas from a food cart on the corner of a street. Although I would become something of a “foodie” later in life, at 7 my palate wasn’t very developed (although I did order and love licorice ice cream on that same trip while in San Diego). The fact that I even tried a bean tostada is remarkable. The fact that I loved it and still remember it so vividly is astonishing. There were only three ingredients: a crunchy tostada, beans (refried, I assume), and shredded lettuce. The flavor of the beans is what the food memory is all about. I have eaten Tex-Mex in the United States and real Mexican food in Baja California and never again tasted the flavor in those beans. I’ve pored over Diana Kennedy’s Art of Mexican Cooking and tried dozens of frijoles recipes, and I haven’t been able to recapture the essence of those beans. To this day, when I’m heaping shrimp or meat, cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, etc., on tacos and tostados, I think about those Tijuana tostadas. They were simple and simply delicious.
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