Recipes and Memory: Thinking Back

Amanda E. Herbert and Annette E. Herbert

Alzheimer's disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Alzheimer’s disease, artwork. Credit: Florence Winterflood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


Over the past two months, we’ve learned so much about recipes and memory. Sonakshi Srivastava taught us about cities, identity, and the legal as well as cultural ownership of a historic recipe. Lina Perkins Wilder shared what happens when a family recipe is tweaked so many times that it stops working. Betsy Golden Kellem recovered the (delightfully unsavory) origins of the nostalgic treat that is pink lemonade. And Heather Ariyeh asked for community contributions to a project on beans and rice — and please do contribute! The project is ongoing and all are welcome to either skype, zoom, or write to teach Heather their recipe via hariyeh@sva.edu. We are extremely grateful, to all of our contributors, for sharing their writing, their labor, and, in many cases, their own memories with us.

This series has shown us the power and the pitfalls of remembering. The work of art that has been featured on our site over these two months is by Florence Winterflood, and it’s called Alzheimer’s Disease. Held by the Wellcome Collection, Winterflood’s oil and ink painting was “created shortly after ‘Mama’, the artist’s grandmother, moved to a nursing home after her Alzheimer’s disease progressed to a stage where could no longer look after herself. ‘She lost a lot of weight, and a broad, strong, matriarch became a feeble, bird-like woman. Yet however small her frame became, her hands remained large and strong and capable.’ The hand, here a strong tangible image, represents the way the body can settle and remain hardy, even when the mind has become chaotic. The maps breaking up the lines of the hand further represent fragmentation of character, particularly in the way Alzheimer’s interrupts neurological pathways in the brain, disrupting and even tearing up, knowledge, thoughts and memories.”

Strength and chaos, breadth and fragmentation, capability and disruption are all represented in the way that recipes are recalled and remembered. As we share them, ingredients can be forgotten, instructions lost, temperatures reset. But it is a recipe’s very capacity for and easy adaptation to communication, generosity, swapping, and donation which gives it such longevity, allowing it to transcend people, time, and space.