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On a driving vacation through the Southeast a few years ago, I introduced my husband to crab cakes and hush puppies.  Of course he'd had delectable Dungeness Crab crab cakes from the San Francisco Bay Area growing up, but it was his first taste of Chesapeake Bay blue crab cakes.  He chased that first crab cake sandwich taste all the way down the coast from Virginia Beach to Melbourne, Florida comparing each one to that first one we enjoyed at a diner just outside Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Williamsburg is in my top 10 places to not miss in the U.S.  It could be because I grew up just north of there, but I think anyone would love it.  It is an authentically restored colonial village where you leave the modern and walk among tradespeople that would've practiced at that time.  For example at the pottery shop you can watch a potter using naturally colored clays to create all sorts of vessels and then view them closer in the retail area.  It's not overly commercial at all though.  You could spend all day walking the street, checking out the houses and demonstrations and see a reanactment of the storming of the place they stored the town's gun powder and arms.  The gardens, both flower and vegetable, are beautiful.  The restaurants serve things like peanut soup for appetizer and syllabub for dessert.  Both are delicious, by the way.

However, the restaurant we had the best crab cake of our lives was at Berret's Seafood Restaurant which is one block outside the colonial part.   We just happened to be hungry and were saving our colonial eating experience for dinner so popped in.  It actually wasn't until seeing if the place still existed that I read how lucky we were to experience it!  "The Seafood Restaurant has been voted by locals as “Best in Williamsburg” for over 10 years."

That southeast trip also was the start of my husband's love affair with hushpuppies, those slightly sweet and sometimes savory bites of deep-fried cornmeal dough.  (In the last couple of years I've been making hushpuppies with crab in them in the summer.  Is it any wonder the man loves me?)

I hadn't had one in over a dozen years and actually had forgotten about them.  One sniff of the doughy goodness and my mind took me right back to Peter Pan Inn in Maryland. 

The Peter Pan Inn was this really cool place that our family would go on special occasions and always with a large group of adults and children.  There was always a line, but no one seemed to mind.  Once you checked in at the toll booth the adults would get in line and we children would go exploring the multitude of statues and beautiful garden.  Older adults would find a bench to wait.

After being escorted through antique filled rooms you were seated at a long table and served family style.  There were several rooms for diners and I always wanted to eat in the garden room which had a glass roof and lots of plants.  We never did and I'm not sure if it was because there weren't large tables in there or my parents weren't willing to wait extra time for a table to free up.  The powdered hushpuppies along with apple butter arrived first.  It's my first memory of eating in a restaurant that had those silver servers for relish and apple butter kinds of things.  I thought it was pretty darn fancy, those and the cloth napkins.  The kids and probably some of the adults would've been happy just savoring the hushpuppies, but as adults will do:  we were rationed so as not to upset our appetite for southern fried chicken.   (Saturated fats were fortunately not sinful yet.)

On a whim I searched the internet yesterday and found this essay by Neal J Conway who captured the time and place so well and as I remembered it that you should just go on over to his Eats In The Maryland Manor: a Reminiscence About The Peter Pan Inn page.  It's with his permission that I borrowed the above photo for this post.

Why do smells trigger a memory?

Further probing on the net in search of why smells can trigger memories, I found several scientific type articles.  What I find especially interesting is that they almost always (maybe always?) take you back to the first time you actually experienced it.  

According to an article in Discovery Health by Sarah Dowdey titled How Smell Works,  "the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the 'emotional brain,' smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously."

In childhood is when you usually encounter new smells.  At that time your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory.  The memory could be an event, person, thing or even a moment.  Although the Peter Pan Inn no longer exists in reality, it will always be hushpuppy heaven in my mind.

"Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles, and all the years you have lived."  Helen Keller


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