Sense memory is pretty interesting. I think we often take for granted our sense of sight and hearing so much that a familiar face or tune never has the same kind of profound effect as a smell or a taste from the past. A few weeks ago, I was reminded, through scent, of a time in my life that seems so long ago as to never have happened. As I breathed in the scent, I was uncontrollably thrown into a moment where I was standing on a sleet-covered sidewalk in the Back Bay of Boston, bathed in the light of a shop decorated for the holidays, holding onto someone who seemed like the love of my life at the time. For a smell to transport me so quickly through time and space, without the struggle of trying to remember, was almost too much to take. How does your brain do this to you? Sure, it happens with an old photograph or a melody every once in a while, but never as much as taste or smell, I think.
When I got back to my computer, I couldn’t help but reconnect with the love in that memory and tell him about what happened, and how I was taken back to a time so long ago. His response sort of took me by surprise, but in a great way. He said he understood sense memory like that, and spun it back to me with a taste memory. He said that he always thinks of me, with the same kind of intensity, when he makes the fried green tomato BLTs I invented years ago. When he said that, it dawned on me that I had not thought of those sandwiches in years, perhaps because of broken-hearted connotations. With so much water under the bridge, I immediately found myself craving one.
Unfortunately, I had to wait to make the sandwiches, as it took a few weeks to get real green (unripe) tomatoes from the farmer’s market. We shared the bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato sandwiches [BL(FG)Ts] at Sunday supper with Meggie and David recently. They were better this time, for some reason – maybe fresher tasting. The sense memory took me back, though, and I was suddenly in my huge, old, greasy kitchen in Boston, sitting in the first chill of late summer and devouring my new sandwich invention. If you’ve seen Ratatouille, there is a scene near the end where Anton Ego, the food critic, has a moment with the title dish. He takes one bite of that meal and is transported to his childhood, to his family, and to his own fledgling tastebuds. Perhaps my reaction to the taste of those layers of goodness was not as overwhelming as Ego’s, but I felt assured that, even in my adult life, I am building memories of moments with food.
If you are new to fried green tomatoes, don’t be scared. They are not easily messed up, provided that you have a non-stick skillet. Perhaps a bit obnoxiously, I do make my own tomato chutney, mostly because I like it the way I make it. You should feel free to swap out a not-too-spicy store-bought chutney of any kind (not only tomato). If you need recommendations, just let me know.