Isn’t it funny how familiar smells grab us by the heartstrings? The scent of honeysuckle flashes us back to playing alongside the flowering vines at Grandmom’s. The sweet smell of pipe tobacco takes us to lazy Saturdays watching birds from the porch swing with Dad. And the delicious aroma of a family favorite draws us back to good times spent gathered around the table at countless holiday feasts.
That’s why I’ll be making Popie’s baked corn from the recipe he taught me this Father’s Day.
I’ll spend Father’s Day with my husband and father-in-law. Both are awesome men I adore. But it’s not the same as sharing the day with the men who gave so very generously of their time and love to help raise me as a girl and cheer me as I grew into a woman. They’re all gone now.
Scents and memory
While sight uses four kinds of sensors, our sense of smell uses more than 1,000 different receptor types, according to the BBC. Those receptors send information deep into the brain to the olfactory bulb, which is a next-door neighbor to the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory. Some studies suggest that people who commit information to memory while taking in a strong aroma will actually recall the information better when they are exposed to that smell again, reports About.com. In fact, scents and memory are so strongly connected that the ability to identify odors is actually impaired when the parts of the brain linked to memory are damaged.
Memories fresh from the oven
I may not be able to say thank you to my fathers and grandfathers this Father’s Day, but I can savor the memories of their love. I don’t need the aroma of baked corn to remember, but the sweet scent of it hot from the oven creates a visceral connection that makes me feel closer to them. Besides, it’s also one of my father-in-law’s favorites.
For anyone interested, Popie’s well-used recipe for baked corn is simple. (A good thing for me, since I’m not the most talented cook!) Just preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you gather the following:
¼ cup of melted butter (coconut oil works too)
2 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup of sugar
1 can of evaporated milk
1 can of creamed corn
This goes together really quick. Beat the eggs with a fork and then add in the melted butter or coconut oil. Mix in the cornstarch and sugar. When smooth, pour in the evaporated milk and stir until the color is even. Then add in the creamed corn and stir until well mixed. Transfer your concoction to a greased baking dish, and then bake for an hour or so until the top is a sunny gold and the edges are just starting to brown. (If you use a sugar substitute, the baked corn will stay fairly light in color.)
I’ve passed this trusty recipe to my sister and taught both my kids how to make this family favorite. By sharing it, I’m expanding on the happy associations the sweet scent inspires. After all, you can never have too many happy memories or too much love.
“10 Facts about Memory” — About.com
“Why Can Smells Unlock Forgotten Memories?” — BBC.com