Last Thursday was Mountain Day at Smith College. How do I know? Was I wandering the streets of Northampton when the bells began to ring? Did I happen to be in an apple orchard in a nearby farm which was suddenly overrun by Smithies? No, it was much more mundane. I received an email from the president informing all alumni she’d given student and faculty the day off. I didn’t give myself the day off, though I was tempted. Instead i took some time to enjoy a view of the hills from behind the town library. My own Mountain Day moment.
It’s funny the things you remember about college. With our eldest daughter in her freshman year at University of New Haven I’ve been thinking about my alma mater often. Especially the quirky little food memories which have stuck with me for more than a quarter of a century.
Every Thursday night Smith would serve us a family style dinner by candlelight, complete with linen napkins and tablecloths. I loved those cloth napkins and so did my mother. She was so entranced with the tradition she got me my very own cloisonné napkin holder. The cloth napkins took a little getting used to since unlike paper napkins where you use and dispose of them after every meal our linen napkins had to last us for a week. If it became too grubby you could put them in the napkin hamper, then use paper until the following Thursday when you got a fresh cloth napkin. We even had our own individual napkin cubbies in the dinning hall.
Smith’s food was what we referred to as “grade A institutional food”. Great food considering it was made in such large quantities, but by no means home cooking. Every so often I’d go on the hunt for something that wasn’t made for 100+ students or that was rare enough to be a considered an out-of-dining-hall treat. One fall, around this time of year, one of my best friends Jim Ferguson and I were wandering around the farmer’s market in Amherst, Massachusetts. As much as I loved Smith, it was nice to occasionally get off campus and cross the river to visit Ferg and his friends at Amherst College. One booth was selling small boxes of what were probably the last of the fall raspberries. We bought two. Half a pint of heavy cream, two bowls, and two spoons later we locked ourselves in Ferg’s room. No sharing. No talking. Just gobbling fresh raspberries swimming in heavy cream. One small box each. It was perfect.
I’m sure many of the meals we ate were amazing, after all with Julia Child and Charlotte Turgeon as two of our illustrious alums college dining services had something to aspire to. The funny thing is it isn’t the fancy food I recall (and still eat) but the simplest. It is the humblest of desserts. Probably something thrown together when the cooks were just so tired of feeding us they wanted to weep and throw their ladles in the soup. And we loved it. We acted like a bunch of hungry sharks circling around a hurt fish. It required no cooking and no prep. Are you ready? Cream cheese,
Ritz Saltine crackers and jelly. If you think about it it’s almost like a deconstructed cheesecake. Don’t believe me about how good this is? I dare you to try it.
What are your favorite college food memories?