Evocative food smells

My elderly mother is currently spending time in a skilled nursing facility and is complaining about the food. I decided to make her some chicken soup (with orzo, not matzo balls) and bring it in. I started cooking it about an hour ago, and, as it heated up, the smell made me instantly feel calmer. It also brought me back to my Hungarian Jewish grandmother’s house.
I’ve also found that the smell of roasting meat makes me feel safe, and the smell of dill pickles reminds me of being a kid. I’m sure many of us have wonderful memories of food cooking, and I thought it would be fun to see what you come up with. I love hearing stories about childhood food memories, so I’m looking forward to reading yours. Thanks.


My mother was an unenthusiastic cook, but she did bake bread out of necessity. My favorite olfactory memory is the aroma of her yeasty loaves in the oven. Two others that make me happy and nostalgic are the welcoming smell of a full blown home cooked Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, sage stuffing, all of the autumnal herbs and vegetables. Then there’s smells of the sea, a summer clam boil with steamers, lobsters, linguicia, onions, potatoes, corn on the cob.

My top 3…


A fun topic, and it’s interesting how many people have memories going back to a grandmother. Mine spent years 12-20 something as a worker in a Jewish bakery in Vilna (Vilnius). She never worked professionally in America, but always cooked and baked when she came to visit us. Her challah was still the best I’ve ever tasted. The smell of that lingers in my mind.


Considering that humans rely mostly on vision and hearing to navigate our daily lives, it’s interesting that our sense of smell is our most potent memory trigger, doubtless going back to well before the dawn of Homo sapiens.

Personally, I realized in recent years that I have more synesthetic tendencies than I was previously conscious of.
So I don’t know if it’s widely the case with other folks, but if asked to recall the aroma of a familiar food, I have the same experience as if it were actually present…


What a great topic! So many memories…one of the most powerful is the smell of ripe peaches. Transports me right back to childhood visiting cousins and granny who had peach orchards abutting their property. Also my mom made peach jam, the long cooked version, without pectin. The smell of cooking peaches transports me right back to her kitchen stove. Also very early aroma memories involve barbecue (or grilling) meat, with sauce. Yum. Another indelible memory is smelling the deviled, stuffed crabs that were made after crabbing on the Gulf of Mexico. Oh my, no wonder I love Creole and Cajun foods.


When I was little, I thought dinner was ready when the aroma of sautéing aromatics wafted out of the kitchen and would race there to “help” (we all had chores from setting the table to clearing up after).

My poor mom must have worried for my comprehension when this happened so often - how many times do you need to explain to said kid that the fragrance of sauteed onions are the beginning of the meal, not a signal that it’s ready :roll_eyes::joy:

I still love those smells, and they take me back to that kitchen and my silliness every time.

Super topic!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold