I woke up this morning thinking about this piece I wrote in Summer 2009 for the Meals and Memories workshop I conducted with students from the UW-Madison’s Odyssey Project. The assigned theme was “Favorite Holiday Foods.”
I am looking at a recipe for PECAN GEMS, my favorite holiday food.
I remember these like a lost lover. PECAN GEMS were a suave and darkly beautiful gentleman who called on me with sinister intent. I may have been only four or five, but I knew desire, and it felt like a sugar rush.
The shell is made from cream cheese, butter, and flour, pressed with the fingers into mini-muffin tins. The filling is classic pecan pie, eggs and dark brown sugar, butter, vanilla. “Makes approx. 24” is the final phrase typed on the card.
This is one of the dishes my mother would make when company was coming, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The recipe may make 24 but by the time I filched one and another and another, my mother would be lucky if 12 made it to the table. Consequently she made batches and batches. I ate all I could find.
Those PECAN GEMS were what put the devil call of sugar in my veins. This is still my nemesis, my dark brown sugar beautiful lover who calls to me and, once tasted, must be had again and again. PECAN GEMS are my crystal meth.
When I think about those holiday treats, I think about the devastating battles with myself to deny that demon lover. And I always lost. Our internal battle was so intense I don’t even remember the outer battle that must have been taking place, my mother scolding me, my mother hiding the PECAN GEMS, my mother desperately angry when she discovered she’d have to make another batch.
As a child I would take a few GEMS to my private retreat, sitting on my father’s twin bed, wrapped in a plaid blanket that I would sit in the middle of, then pull the corners up over my lap and my head until I was completely enclosed. I would pretend this was a little boat and that I was floating in it, far out to sea. Then I would eat my “supplies.” When finished, I would leave the little boat and steal back to the kitchen to find more. I remember the sick pain somewhere near my heart, indigestion I had no name for, the rich overdose that even in its discomfort couldn’t stop the dark sweet call in my blood and brain.
I read in the New York Times science section this morning [6/23/09] that researchers have discovered food manufacturers manipulate the balance of sugar, salt and fat to make food products irresistible, just as tobacco manufacturers do.
The inventor of those PECAN GEMS had already discovered that formula, and I was powerless in its presence.
My favorite holiday food is a poison.