The Flavour of Nostalgia

Graphic by Surya dev Yadav

Home, after twenty years, finally home.

She walked into her room, so familiar, yet unrecognizable. As she looked around, she realised how little things had changed back home. It felt like she had stepped into a “time vault” of her own creation, from her soft toys to her artwork as a child, everything perfectly preserved.

In the room, her room, time had stood still for years even as they passed by for her mother who was standing next to her, with a weak smile on her face. She quickly pulled her mother into an unending embrace that was a long time coming. It had been a few months since she had seen her mother, but no matter how much time they spent together, it never felt enough. Her mom would travel to any part of the world to meet her, but she always said that she was too busy to come home.

The truth is that she couldn’t bear to come home after her father passed away. She never understood why her mother decided to stay in that time warp till the moment she walked into her room, all those years later. It made her realise that she had been running from reality, instead of facing it, and she was poorer for it. All that running away had strained her relationship with her mother, and she realised then that she should have tried, consciously, to make amends for being aloof, though unwittingly, instead of letting the rift widen.

She was home now, indefinitely. And she knew that she had to work on fixing what was left between her mother and her. With her mind racing, she walked around the room familiarising herself with all the things that used to be so familiar at one point and that is when she was struck with the notion of recreating her grandmother’s brownie recipe.

Her grandma and her mom used to run a tiny bakery in the heart of the city and they used to sell confectionery made with recipes that were handed down to them over generations. No one could make brownies like her grandma, not even her mom, who in her own right was an excellent baker. But after her grandma’s death, the bakery suffered a lot and it was a struggle to keep it running; her father’s death was the last straw and her mom had to shut down the bakery because she didn’t have enough revenue to keep it going.

She thought about all those times where she would help her grandma in the kitchen to bake the brownies, and how she would be covered in flour while she licked her “butter fingers” waiting for the brownies to be baked, while her mom and grandma would sit around chatting and sipping on their coffee. She was immediately reminded of the aroma that filled the kitchen every time her grandma was around and she knew that she had to make those brownies for her mom.

As evening fell, she entered the kitchen with her hands full of supplies ready to recreate the family recipe. There was an old card with half the recipe on it, she used that as a reference and began with the basic ingredients flour, eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, walnuts, vanilla essence, and butter; she baked an entire batch of brownies and they tasted really good but they weren’t the same as her grandma’s.

So, she started to tweak the recipe, she added some cinnamon powder to try and see if that would make the brownies taste more like what she remembered; the batch tasted equally good, just not as good as her memory. She set that batch aside and tried adding some desiccated coconut to the brownies; the new batch did not taste too good. She even tried changing the oven preheating time, and the cooking time, but that did not end well, she burnt one batch and had cakes from the other.

She tossed them against the wall.

Frustration was starting to take a grip on her steely will. She even tried a batch without eggs to see if they tasted like her grandma’s brownies but that did not work either. She tried adding a little honey to the brownie mix; honey gave the brownies an extra kick but they tasted very different from her grandma’s.

Perhaps the nuts were the issue and she replaced walnuts with cashew nuts to see if that changed the taste at all. She even tried adding nutmeg to the batter; that tasted surprisingly good. But no matter what she tried, none of the brownies tasted like her memory. She thought of giving up so many times but she knew that now she needed to recreate that taste more for herself than her mom, she needed to taste her childhood again. She looked at herself and laughed, covered in flour and butter; memories of her grandma and mom together in the kitchen came flooding back and she stood there in the kitchen and licked her butter fingers like she had done so many times in her childhood. Surprisingly, this calmed her down and she set forth again in search of that elusive taste.

Batch after batch, change after change, she kept baking relentlessly till nightfall but nothing seemed to satisfy her. Dejected, more than frustrated, she started chopping some chillies to see if that would make the brownies taste like her childhood. It is at that moment that her mom walked in, saw the mess in the kitchen and smiled; she asked her if she was trying to recreate her grandma’s recipe, she said ‘yes’ with a weak nod.

Her mom told her that years ago she had embarked on the same adventure and failed miserably, she could never figure out the secret ingredient. She laughed as she saw the chillies in front of her and whispered that that wouldn’t work either, she’d tried it — the taste wasn’t bad but not what she was looking for.

They both laughed for a while, and as the laughter died down, she turned to her mother, hugged her and apologised for disappearing for such a long time. Her mother brushed aside her apology, saying that they were both grieving and coping with loss in the only way they knew, but she was back now and that is what mattered to her.

Her mom moved around the kitchen with a sense of familiarity and then set two mugs of delicious smelling dark liquid in front of her on the counter. She smiled at her mom, “Hot chocolate? With a dash of vanilla and caramel?” Her mother simply nodded yes while bringing her mug to her lips.

She sat down on the kitchen stool with a sigh and picked up her mug, she took a long satisfying sip and smiled. It tasted exactly like she remembered, exactly like she had made it over the years every time she thought of home. She turned to her mom and asked her why this tasted the same but no matter how much they tried the brownies didn’t taste as good as the “original”.

Her mother ran her finger on the rim of her mug, deep in thought wondering the exact same thing. Slowly, with a quiet voice she responded. She said that perhaps over the years their memory had weakened, become distorted and what they were remembering wasn’t the actual taste of the brownies; perhaps the taste was just a figment of their imagination. She slowly put her mug down and wondered aloud, perhaps over the years her taste buds had developed and even though she was eating a brownie with the exact same taste, it somehow tasted different.

Her mom took one of the brownies from a plate and tasted it, and her eyes flew wide open in surprise; she told her that she had inherited her grandma’s art of baking. Almost whispering, her mom told her that probably she wasn’t going to get the same taste as her childhood but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t enjoy what lies in front of her. She handed her another brownie and told her to savour it, like she should savour every moment that life has to offer.

With a wide grin, she took the brownie and raised her glass in a toast to life and it’s taste for change, and they laughed and talked well into the night, like they had done so often in the past.

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