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The Art of Recreating Childhood Food Memories

BraveTart author Stella Parks explains why Oreos never taste the same as they did when you were a kid

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Monica Burton is the deputy editor of

There’s nothing like your favorite childhood dessert. As a kid, Oreos, Nutter Butters, and other pre-packaged, mass market treats brought a distinct joy — one that is unfortunately difficult to capture as an adult. In her cookbook BraveTart, pastry chef Stella Parks, who has a blog of the same name, recreates iconic American desserts as she tells their stories. And on this week’s Upsell, she explains to hosts Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito why almost as good can be as good as it gets when it comes to capturing that sweet nostalgic feeling.

The adage “you can’t go back again” is also true of your tastebuds. Children have a high tolerance for sweet tastes and a low tolerance for bitter tastes. This balance switches as they reach adulthood. “When people eat a snack food that they loved as a kid, and they’re like, ‘This doesn’t taste the same. They changed the formula,’ well, it’s totally possible; they could very well have changed the formula,” Parks says. “But it’s also entirely possible that your tolerance for sugar has plummeted.”

When Parks devises a copycat recipe for a nostalgic dessert, she adjusts the flavors to suit adult palates. It’s more important for her to recreate the memory of that treat than an exact replica. She explains, “It needs to have whatever it was that you were reaching for as a kid: This is my after school memory, or this is the thing we always brought to a Christmas party — whatever random association you have with it that is really memory-based more than it’s flavor-based.”

Still, a copycat recipe will never completely hit the mark because preservatives and mass-market manufacturing lend processed foods a magic all their own. “There’s just a certain texture and flavor you’re never going to replicate and this is the flavor of, ‘I've been in a bag for six months,’” Parks says. “It’s just some kind of mojo happens in there and that’s really intense.” Plus, no recipe is 100 percent foolproof — and this is coming from a professional who spent six years developing her recipes, testing each one at least 12 times, before putting them in the cookbook.

Hear the complete interview with Stella Parks as she talks about what she’s learned from McDonald’s apple pie and reveals her theory for why Oreos are called Oreos. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes   right here on Eater.

All Episodes of the Eater Upsell [E]
• The Eater Upsell: Stella Parks [iTunes | Spotify | Art19]