How our senses can evoke memories

by | May 23, 2019

French novelist, Marcel Proust, famously wrote about the childhood memories that came flooding back to him when he dipped a Madeleine in a cup of tea.

How smells can evoke memories - Nikki Young

He had been feeling down up until this point, but the taste of the cake evoked in him, memories of being a child when he spent time at his aunt’s country house during the summer.

This stream of memories was so powerful, Proust wrote that they filled him with hope and gratitude.

We have since come to know this involuntary and intense remembering of events or memories from the past, brought on by a smell, taste or texture, as a Proustian Moment.

What would your Proustian Moment be?

I have many, but there is one in particular takes me straight back to childhood holidays spent by the sea – freshly made doughnuts.

We’re talking about the good old-fashioned British self-catering holiday on a caravan park. Every year, for as long as I can remember. Days spent on the beach, evenings at the clubhouse watching the entertainment.

We went every year, with my aunt and uncle, their three children, plus my nana and grandad. There was often a mini bus involved and I can only recall laughter and singing rather than uncomfortable travel.

I couldn’t tell you one park from another, because none of that was important to me, but waft a freshly deep-fried, sugar-coated ring doughnut under my nose and I’m straight back to those days, watching with fascination as the doughnuts were made right before my eyes.

Sugar covering your fingers and face. The doughnut too hot to eat, but you gave it your best shot anyway, too eager to wait. Light, sweet, crisp on the outside, yet soft in the middle, those doughnuts were a treat reserved only for holidays. They never tasted as good if you had one when you were back home anyway.

I actually think they are pretty disgusting now – too sweet and greasy, but they are the taste of my childhood and I will always be reminder of those happy carefree days when I register that smell.


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