Last Call: Reaching way back for our earliest food memories

Illustration for article titled Last Call: Reaching way back for our earliest food memories
Photo: John Block (Getty Images)

I was maybe three or almost four years old, sitting barefoot on the kitchen counter between the stove and the sink. That was the best spot because you could scooch all the way back toward the wall and the bottom of the spice cabinet would cover your head like a roof. I was presented with three big oranges and a small bowl of cloves, and very little explanation—or maybe I wasn’t listening. I picked up an orange and began to bring it to my face, but my mom gently stopped me. Like this, she instructed, taking one clove from the bowl at a time and using the pointed end of each to pierce the skin of the orange. They stuck there, studding the rind like dirt-crusted diamonds.


I reached into the bowl for my first clove, then very carefully selected the site along the orange rind where I’d drive it in. This hurt; my fingers were not only small, but soft, and the clove might as well have been a thorn. I received assistance. I admired the handiwork. There it was: a clove stuck into an orange.

Then what? Well, much more of that: we stuck dozens of cloves into each orange so that the house would smell good at the holidays. My mom encouraged me to form a picture or design with the cloves, but I think I ended up attempting an orderly line from pole to pole instead. Satisfied with my work, I asked her if I could now eat the orange. But no; one does not eat the oranges they’ve poked with cloves. They set them in a bowl for perfume and aesthetics. Having been gearing up for snack time, I was more than a little confused by this application of fruit, but hey, kids spend most of their first several years in a state of confusion, untangling it with endless “why”s and “how”s until they no longer fit under the spice cabinet.

What’s your earliest food memory? Your earliest, not your best. Does yours, unlike mine, involve actually eating something?

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.


Salsa Your Face

My earliest memory overall is reaching out to grab a handful of birthday cake and being swatted away. It was my own 2nd birthday cake, and it had been decorated with Bert and Ernie, and I wanted it in my hands, not on a plate!

Aside from that, my earliest food memories are all about preparing food, not eating it:

I remember making latkes with my grandmother and being confused why they were white. I asked her “but when do we put the brown on them?”

I remember helping out during a party and being asked to bring up a bottle of orange soda from the basement pantry—I knew that you had to shake orange juice before drinking it, so I helpfully shook the orange soda while I was walking back up the stairs. My mom opened the bottle and sticky orange fizz instantly coated the kitchen.

I remember waking up early one weekend morning and thinking I could independently make toast in the toaster oven—which, in fact, I could. My critical mistake was putting the bag of bread back home on top of the toaster oven right away, while it was still cooking, instead of waiting until it had cooled down like my parents did. The smell of burned plastic lingered for days and the melted Wonderbread logo remained visible on top of the toaster oven for the rest of its life.