My Olfactory Memory Of Summer Camp

By Laura Miller | July 17, 2022
Image by Tevarak
by Laura Miller
July 17, 2022

Scientists call it olfactory memory. It’s the process by which our brains recollect events associated with our sense of smell. In layman’s terms, this means that an aroma can trigger a memory. As gardeners, we often encounter natural fragrances from flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees.

Associating Memories with Garden Smells

Apparently, associating memories with smells has to do with our brain’s anatomy. Smells are recorded in the same area of our noggins as are emotions and memories. For some people, smells can trigger a memory so vivid that they feel as if they are reliving the moment. 

Gardeners can find the aroma of a particular flower evokes childhood memories of a loved one. Or perhaps, the smell of hot peppers triggers a fragrant flashback to a not-so-pleasant, mouth-burning experience. For me, garden smells conjure up images of food.

The smell of tomatoes reminds me of sauce. Green peppers make me hunger for sausage sandwiches. Cut up a fresh cucumber in my kitchen and an image of ranch dressing pops into my head. Yet, there is one particular garden smell that takes me back to summer camp as a child.

What Smell Triggers Memory of Summer Camp

I would hardly compare camp food to fine cuisine, but spending a day hiking, swimming and canoeing builds an appetite. Even the watery oatmeal served at breakfast tasted like a feast to my hungry childhood tummy. So image my delight when one evening the camp counselors served parsley potatoes.

I dearly love potatoes and always have. It doesn’t matter if they’re fried, baked, boiled, roasted, broasted or mashed. If potatoes were on the menu, potatoes were on my plate. Yet, up until that fated day at summer camp, I had never had parsley potatoes. 

I was so enthralled by this new way to fix potatoes that when I came home it was all I could talk about. Much to my surprise, my mother added parsley potatoes to her repertoire of side dishes. The only difference was she used fresh parsley

To this day, parsley is one of the smells that trigger memories for me. It doesn’t seem to matter that the camp potatoes didn’t have the strong aroma of fresh parsley like my mother’s. There was enough there to trigger happy memories of summer camp.

Growing Parsley for Potatoes

Luckily, growing this herb for my own parsley potatoes is easy. The seeds can be sowed directly in the garden as soon as the danger of frost has passed. The seedlings can either be transplanted or thinned to space plants 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm.) apart.

Individual stems can be harvested from the outside of the plant once they are reached a usable size. Following my mother’s recipe, I cook the potatoes before sprinkling on the chopped up parsley. Adding fresh herbs at the end of the cooking cycle helps them retain their flavor and aroma 

It’s been fifty years since I attended summer camp. There is no doubt that as we age our memories seem to fade. I love the fact that parsley brings up pleasant thoughts from my childhood. I think that’s true of many foods. From pies baking in the oven to the aroma of holiday meals, smells triggering memories is what cooking with fresh herbs and garden veggies is all about.

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