Yesterday, the New York Times published this article about food souvenirs and the small pilgrimages we make to purchase items not available in our immediate geographic areas. The people Sarah Maslin interviewed reached the same conclusion — namely, that just buying a long-distance food online does not even approximate the experience of buying that food in its natural habitat, and that foods gifted to us by family and friends hold more significance than those delivered by strangers.
Reading this, I recalled a mini-pilgrimage I made last winter in search of one of my childhood favorites: the chocolate long john from Hans’ Bakery in Anoka, MN.
Trips to Hans’ were special events, to be anticipated for several days prior and recalled for hours afterward. My parents, never big believers in the Church of Donut Christ, limited my sister’s and my consumption of the fatty sweet treats, but this curtailment only intensified my love of donuts. (I’m not sure what effect the rationing had on my sister. I think she still eats donuts, but…yeah. Not with such zeal.) My favorite donut was, and is, the chocolate long john. Bigger than your average specimen, filled with a gooey, silky, almost-egg-yolk-yellow custard filling, and slathered with house made chocolate frosting, Hans’ long john is a true delight.
When I went home for Christmas, I knew that a trip to Hans’ was in order. I knew too that I’d have to convince Hook to come with me, as mild as his feelings toward donuts are. We set out — on foot, in 20-degree weather — at about 10:30 am and reached our destination by one in the afternoon. Hans’ dining room looked just as I remembered, the same Formica tables and orange plastic chairs and tantalizing cake display case, all cast in the winter afternoon light. Fortunately for us, the bakery still had a good selection of product, despite our late arrival. (Aside: what had I been thinking? We clearly should have left at eight to arrive by ten.) I spent a few minutes studying the selection, though there was only one thing I wanted.
How did that first bite measure up to my memory? Just perfectly, thanks. I realize that many, if not most, of my food associations become favorably faded by time and my own spotty memory. If not for this purpose, then what role does nostalgia have, right? But the donut I had that gray December afternoon exceeded the high expectations I’d set for the experience.
The coffee, on the other hand, did not. Since my memories of Hans’ had formed before I took to coffee drinking, I let it slide.