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Food Memory

One of my earliest cooking memories involves my mother and chocolate fudge.  I was sitting on the kitchen counter a safe distance from the bubbling pot as the mixture boiled away on the stove.  I watched in amazement as the candy thermometer registered higher and higher temperatures until it was to my mother’s liking.  Then all that was left to do was wait for it to set up and imagine the pure euphoria of letting that first piece of chocolate perfection melt in my mouth.

That morning was at least three decades ago, yet I remember it vividly.  It’s one of my Anton Ego moments.  You know the one.  That moment where he takes the first bite of Ratatouille in the so named Pixar film and is magically transported back to the moment in time when his mother made it to comfort him?   I’m happy to say that I have plenty of them.  Memories of grandmothers, mothers, fathers, husbands, and children in the kitchen creating, laughing, and eating together.  I feel quite lucky in this department.  While we have only lived at 1840 Farm for a little over five years, we’ve built several food memories of our own here.  In fact, we make it a priority.

Back to the fudge.  Last week I made our annual batch of holiday fudge.  My children sat on the counter next to the stove and I told them (again) of my fudge memory.  They have heard the story before, but they listened patiently as they watched the mixture bubble on our stove.  I could see in their eyes that they were constructing a mental image of their grandmother making fudge all those years ago with me taking it all in.  I could see with my own eyes that their feet had grown much closer to the floor since last December.  It was a little reminder of why I was taking this moment to stop the world from spinning and make a memory with them.

When the fudge was finished cooking, I poured it in the pan and set it aside.  I lifted each child down from the counter and took a hug as I did so.  We waited, not so patiently, for the fudge to cool.  When it had, I carefully cut into it to find that it had not set up.  Instead, we had what more closely resembled gooey ganache.  Luckily, my kids took it in stride.  They found that not quite set fudge makes a lovely ice cream topping.  They were happy.  I was not.

My unhappiness didn’t last long.  I looked at the faces of my happy children which were now painted with the remnants of their fudgy treat and realized that the food memory was so much more important than the food.  In fact, food memories have so little to do with the actual food and everything to do with the person you share the memory with.  I know from experience that when they look back at our 2010 annual fudge making, they won’t only remember that it didn’t turn out perfectly.  They will remember how delicious it tasted on top of vanilla bean ice cream.  They will remember it  as I do, with them both sitting on the kitchen counter and listening to me tell them about my fudge food memory.

Fast forward 24 hours and the fudge was the consistency that I had desired.  It looked and tasted delicious.  It became a part of our traditional Christmas Eve cookie bar.  No one would have known that it hadn’t turned out quite the way I had envisioned.  I learned a long time ago from my cake decorating instructor that when food doesn’t turn out the way you intended, but is still delicious, you take a bow and keep the secret of your disappointment to yourself.  It was good advice then and still good advice almost ten years later.

Being the holidays, we’ve happily made several other food memories in just the last week.  Sweet potato gnocchi, brioche bread with homemade preserves put up at the end of the summer, lasagna featuring our beloved heirloom tomatoes.  I could go on, but just typing this is making me hungry, so I’ll assume that you get the idea.  I’m sure that next weekend’s New Year’s celebration will bring a few more.

So here’s to my family who share every Anton Ego-esque food memory moment that I hold dear.  They are what make my food memories so wonderfully phantasmagorical.  And here’s to all the food memories I can’t wait to make in 2011.

1840 Farm Chocolate Fudge
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Chocolate

Makes 36 squares

1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
5 ounces evaporated skim milk
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Prepare an 8 inch square pan by lining with parchment paper and greasing with butter or pan spray.

Combine sugar, butter, Fleur de Sel, and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Lower heat to low and continue to simmer while stirring constantly for five minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the chocolate chips and vanilla.  Stir gently until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth.  It will resemble warm ganache at this stage.

Immediately pour mixture into prepared pan.  Chill until firm, approximately 2 hours.  Cut into squares and serve.

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