Which is better, the food or the memory of the food?

Was your mother really a good cook? Was that chocolate cake or those hash browns you had 20 years ago at that restaurant really fabulous?

Food memories can be funny. Our tastes change. Maybe Mom’s chocolate chip cookies weren’t really that good, maybe those hash browns were actually a bit too greasy and if we ate these foods today in someone else’s kitchen or in a different restaurant we wouldn’t rave.

But we remember them so fondly that we think we’ll never find the ultimate recipe for whatever it is we thought was so wonderful.

I have that feeling about a lot of foods. My Mom’s Nut Roll. The Apple Tart at L’Orangerie in Los Angeles. My grandmother’s baked blintzes. The Hot and Sour Soup at Temple Garden in New York’s Chinatown.

When autumn comes and I see the trees turning orange and gold, my food memory turns to pumpkin pie and that makes me remember the Automat. It went out of business when I was a little girl, but I still remember my Aunt Roz and Uncle Mac taking me there for lunch or dinner when we went into Manhattan to go ice skating or to see a show. They were the kind of aunt and uncle that took their nieces and nephews to places and we all loved them so much that the food that came with the day would of course be wonderful no matter where or what it was.

At the Automat, if it was autumn, there was pumpkin pie.

It was the very best pumpkin pie. In my memory. I have been trying to duplicate its flavor and texture since I started cooking. But food memories linger so no matter what I come up with, it’s never “the one” even if the results are fabulous. Someone once gave me a recipe that was supposed to be the Automat authentic version and I made one. Of course I didn’t remember the pie tasting like my pie did.

So which is better, the food or the memory of the food?

Both really, for different reasons. We can savor the memory and eat something delicious even if it isn’t quite the version you remember.

Here’s a terrific recipe for Pumpkin Pie. Not too spicy and with a hint of molasses. Don’t use pumpkin pie “mix”, use plain pumpkin puree or fresh mashed pumpkin (press fresh mashed pumpkin to extract excess liquid).

Pumpkin Pie

  • 1-1/2 cups mashed pumpkin (canned is fine)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (any kind)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups half and half cream or evaporated milk
  • 1 9-inch single pie crust, unbaked

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Spoon the pumpkin, brown sugar, white sugar and molasses into a bowl and blend ingredients thoroughly. Beat in the eggs. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cream. Blend ingredients thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the crust. Bake for 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and continue baking for 55-60 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Makes one pie

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