When was the first time I fell under its spell?

Unbelievably, it must have been six decades ago. Who knew that when I first went inside its heavy doors, and soaked in the other world of Pea Soup Andersen’s, it would become a lifelong obsession? My mother would take my brother and me on a day trip to Solvang, which was really a code for we are going to have lunch at Pea Soup Andersen’s. The soup was comforting, of course. It was an old-world food that I had never tasted before. Food like cooked red cabbage had somehow captured my youthful taste buds.

Years later, a friend, hearing of my love for Pea Soup Andersen’s, made a point to stop there anytime they went south to get me a container of soup, and a few pieces of their famous apple strudel.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Los Banos to see that a hop, skip and a jump away was a Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella.

It was the beginning of a decades-long tradition. As I recall, Easter and Mother’s Day buffets, baby and wedding showers and anniversaries and gatherings of friends are memories blended together with the smell and tastes of enjoyable food. It seems we all combine many of our memories with food. The eating of food is so often a way we celebrate and mark special occasions.

I can still taste my grandmother’s stuffing, which we enjoyed every Thanksgiving– although it has been 62 years since I ate it. If I see pecan pie, I immediately think of my mother’s version that no one has ever topped in my opinion. The thought of that pie brings my mother to life.

Food to us is not just nourishment: it is comfort, a way of feeling and showing love, and a trigger for past memories. Recipes become a beloved part of a family’s heritage. It can be passed on and enjoyed from generation to generation. Food feeds our souls, as well as our bellies.

Perhaps that is why certain eating establishments hold such affection in my memory.

The Branding, in Merced, has been a place for so many special memories. Espanas and M&M’s in Los Banos, feels like home because we ate there so often. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I can see my friends gathered together laughing as we ate.

When I was a child in Michigan, my uncle, who lived in California, sent us a basket from Knott’s Berry Farm every year. We were gifted a basket full of California fruits and other goodies. To us this was most exotic treat. To be able to eat a fresh orange on Christmas Day seemed unfathomable. I have eaten many oranges since I moved to California, but none has tasted as sweet as those air-mailed citrus ones sent to us with love.

When I smell a fresh pretzel, I immediately think of my visit to New York City. I close my eyes and can imagine walking down crowded streets trying to soak in the adventure. Food, with its taste and aroma, can linger in our taste buds’ years after it has been enjoyed. So often I wish I could go back in time to relive special moments. While we may not be able to go home again or rewind life to have those times again, food can give us momentary visits to these times.

Food is one of the nicest four-letter words.

I try to imagine how it must have been back in the beginning of humanity when a person had to go out and forage to survive. How could they have imagined that one day they could sit down, and order food that would be served to them as they calmly waited? Somehow, I still believe that in a caveman’s memory they would recall a particularly good bit of wildlife cooked with the new invention called fire.

Endorphins provided by food are one of the pleasures of living – even prisons seem to know this when a prisoner on death-row is offered a choice in their last meal. When you add place, time and people to the delight of food, you are on your way to making a memory that may last a lifetime.

Walking the Walk

The annual Merced County “Walk to End Alzheimer’s”

This annual event helps to raise much needed funds for research, education and support services. This year, our 12 member team came in second with a total to date of $7,378.

Our Los Banos Support Group continues to make our city proud by once more participating with Linda Kujawa, as Cindy Jorge leads the way. Jorge and Kujawa, both who lost their mothers to this horrible disease, worked their hearts out for this effort. I am so very proud of the support group Eileen Sorensen and I formed about 27 years ago. I applaud Linda Kujawa, who jumped in so generously, to lead the support group when I had to drop out due to health reasons. Linda is amazing.

Alzheimer’s continues to be one of the world’s leading killers. It not only devastates the life of those with the disease, but all of those who love them. Eileen and I originally formed the group because we had lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s, and knew so little about the disease. We had no support system, and this group became a true labor of love for both of us, and it has become a nourishing source of help to those who attend.

The meetings continue to be held on the third Wednesday of each month, at Country Waffle House on Pacheco in Los Banos.

If you plan to order lunch come at 11 :30, due to the meeting starting at noon.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.