Cornell is often remembered for its emblematic clock tower and associated bell chimes, its plunging gorges and crashing waterfalls, its sights and sounds. Less often cited, though arguably just as fundamental, are its smells and tastes. As writer Marcel Proust encapsulates in his piece, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), smell and taste offer powerful channels to the past. Whisked in with the ingredients of any long-loved food are flavors of nostalgia and sentimentality, sustaining not only the body, but also the memory. Indeed, studies have evidenced support for this Proustian hypothesis. New York Times writer Natalie Angier’s The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine references the finding that scent cues are able to elicit earlier, richer and more emotional memories than word cues or visual cues.
Further testimony to this hypothesis comes from food-related memories of Cornell alumni, who channel scents and tastes to remember their time on the Hill long after graduating.
Peg Jones Halberstadt ’56
Dorm eating in the ’50s was far more formal than it is today. One used cloth napkins and had wait-service by girls who thus paid part of their room and board cost. There was a house mother. She was served first, and you waited until she began. Dining had set hours — you had to wait until the dining room doors were opened. Some of this is probably still true.
There was only one student union on campus: Willard Straight Hall. Their major eating facility was the Ivy Room. All of the women’s dorms had dining rooms, except Comstock. It was too small, and my sophomore year when I lived there, we went to Risley for dinner. Dick [my husband] was in Cascadilla as a freshman, and there was no dining room in that dorm. Once he pledged, he ate dinners at the fraternity house. That was a strong incentive to join a fraternity. Another incentive was that, since you could drink legally at 18 in New York, the fraternities usually had some liquor available.
Funny memories: One eating incident, but not in the dorm, involves students, the student union and coffee. Naturally, all self-respecting students had to have their coffee sometime in the morning between classes. I have forgotten how much the coffee cost — we could all afford it — but cream cost two cents more. In the students’ eyes, this was tantamount to highway robbery — why, that made coffee very expensive! I learned to drink my coffee black, but Dick and his friends would take turns buying one tiny measure of coffee and split it between five guys. Talk about a major food issue!
My senior year, the only year I lived in the sorority house, I waited tables. Two of my closest friends were doing it and I thought it would be fun. It was. Lots of nonsense and giggles. Our kitchen “boy” was the president of IFC as well as being a student, and to be truthful, quite cute. The slang expression that year was “You lose! Take off your clothes!” My friend Dee was talking to him one day, and suddenly burst out with “You lose! Take off my clothes.” Realizing what she had said, she fled. I have never seen anyone bolt from the kitchen that fast, before or since.
Dick Jones ’63
Peg left out the most important food item of all: The regular Tuesday lunch menu at the Sigma Chi house was cinnamon buns and chili. Every Tuesday. Not to be missed. Peg once fixed that combo at our house for me and two other Sigs and their wives. The three guys were in seventh heaven; the ladies were not impressed.
Channing Jones ’63
The place to go in the early ’6os, late at night, during the exam weeks, was a little joint in downtown Ithaca where you could go, sit at the counter and be served “BoBurgers” — hamburgers or cheeseburgers with grilled onions with a fried egg on top, great for your digestion at one in the morning. They always had you wide awake and alert for those finals. The place was called Obie’s and Obie would serve the BoBurgers in a converted railway car.
Recipe compliments of Google (What can’t you find on Google?):
- Place burger patty on grill.
- Place a small amount of chopped onion on grill.
- Start frying egg, sunny side up.
- Turn over burger and add cheese, if requested.
- Warm Kaiser buns.
- Put burger on bun, put fried egg on onions, put egg/onions mound on burger and add the top half on bun.
Optional: fries, lettuce and tomato on the side.
Bette Caan ’73
Here’s what the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin’,” meant to this alumuna in 1969: After studying at Olin Library, truckin’ every night back up to Donlon with a stop at Louie’s Truck for a chicken salad sub and a couple soft Archway chocolate chip cookies. And of course, the Freshman 10.
Jeff Wild ’82
Some of my best Cornell experiences were the dinners with my fraternity brothers at the old Phi Sigma Epsilon, “Phi Sig Ep,” that used to be at 40 Ridgewood Avenue in the early 80s. While Phi Sig Ep was merged out of existence into what’s now Phi Sigma Kappa, my food memories were not. These memories still include:
- Giblets à la Emma: Several years before the dangers of cholesterol hit the news, I became the favorite of Emma, the live-in “house mom” who cooked for as many as 75 hungry frat brothers at a time. To Emma’s delight, I was the only young one in the house who appreciated the massive quantities of her boiled chicken giblets, a delicacy that would remain for me in a pot in Emma’s kitchen after at least a couple meals each week. I would polish off a potful of countless gizzards, necks, hearts, livers and God knows what else. How I survived to now almost 35 years since my graduation is a mystery.
- Pucks à la Emma: Far more popular at Phi Sig Ep — perhaps because of all the jokes that we could make at Emma’s expense — were Emma’s “pucks.” Pucks — our name, not Emma’s — were densely packed, ground veal patties overwhelmed by excessive quantities of melted parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. The patties were so dense that everyone agreed they felt like hockey pucks in your stomach. Truth be told, they were also delicious — and since Cornell was a hockey powerhouse in the early ’80s, pucks were both a beloved symbol and a dinner item at the same time.
Joel Simon ’82
College was girls, studying, drinking and eating — in a different order of importance and consumption at different times!
Cross Country Gourmet was once or twice each semester, when a chef from a famous restaurant somewhere in the U.S. would plan a more sophisticated menu and all the dining halls would prepare this great meal for dinner (plus leftovers the next day).
Another memory is the fantastic (and unlimited) Cornell Dairy ice cream sandwiches that were available in all the dining halls.
Mary Bohan ’83
PMPs (Poor Man’s Pizza), or, if I were feeling rich, a PMP pep (with pepperoni) were a large part of my Freshman 10! The food truck parked behind West campus late at night. Another favorite memory is definitely the gourmet nights where top-ranking restaurants came into the dining halls several times a year, a different location each night of the week. They had great food, and were also fun to work!
Patti Rose Mandel ’83, Johnson ’85
I am a firm believer that food helps to create memories. Here are mine.
My senior year I might have well have been on the Souvlaki House meal plan. Most nights, I would walk down Dryden to pick up my Greek Salad. I then trekked back up Dryden and enjoyed my salad while doing work. Souvlaki House felt like home. Even now, as a frequent visitor, Souvlaki feels like home as the food, furniture, decor and owner have not changed. Given the amount of time I ate at Souvlaki House, it was very meaningful when my children gave me a gift certificate from Souvlaki for a recent birthday. Very thoughtful.
My husband (Mark Mandel ’82) and I had date nights at Taughannock Farms Inn. We felt so grown-up to be eating in their quaint setting. We returned for many years.
Kevin Jones ’85
[My fraternity] had some big cookouts — one time, Pete from the Souvlaki House, who was (and still is) a good friend of “The Lodge” came and made big traditional Greek cookout in our backyard with a whole lamb roasted on a spit all day and all kinds of other Greek dishes. The president of the fraternity — as the most honored person — was presented the eyeballs as the best part of the lamb. Dinner ended with lots of toasts and Ouzo shots, and went well into the night. (The drinking age was 18.)
Linda Bregstein Scherr ’85
[My favorite food memory?] I think I would have to go with Greek salad at the place we lived above [a bar and restaurant called Dionysus]. Or a Collegetown Bagel sandwich when I was starving after a long day of studying in the library. (Do they still do warm chocolate chip cookies at the Straight at night?)
Lisa Babish Forbes ’85
I would add a bit more about the Straight cookies. They loom large in my memory. They were served at about 10 or 11 p.m. Those cookies were, some nights, the only “goal” a student could muster to get the necessary studying done. (“If I just get through this chapter, I can go to the Straight with friends for a cookie.”) Those cookies were a ready-made reason to take a break. Wander over to Straight Hall to get a piping hot cookie made of the ordinary chocolate cookie mix with a healthy dose of hot chocolate powder, prepared in this enormous mixer and dropped onto cookie sheets with an ice cream scooper. The whole kitchen at the Straight — dare I say the whole Straight — filled with the smell of baking cookies. If there were extras, lucky dining hall workers were allowed to take them home at night — but only if there were extras, which was not a common experience.
Karen Polk ’85
[My favorite food memory was] the pay-by-the-ounce salad bar at the Big Red Barn and sitting on the lawn to eat it. It’s where you learned which “salad” toppings were heavier than others, and how hard it could be to drag yourself away from your friends and go to class on a beautiful day.
Rebecca Magruder Gomez ’85
I was a dining hall rat (worker), so one of my favorite food memories is going to Collegetown Bagels to get a whole wheat bagel, toasted, with melted muenster, and then just taking a long walk through Collegetown, up to Schoelkopf, and then to class. I got to eat a delicious lunch and see a gorgeous campus at the same time!
Jill Rathus ’85
Here’s one that may be unique to North Campus alums: At the North Campus Truck, at 1 or 2 a.m. after (or during) a long night of studying, we’d wait in line, all bundled up, and get a sub and milkshake. My personal favorite was a nacho cheese sub with a black and white milkshake. Sounds kind of gross now I realize, but hey, I was 18 and hungry!! It always hit the spot.
Another favorite was the simple but yummy morning bagel with cream cheese and coffee from Temple of Zeus in Goldwin Smith Hall.
Lisa Kohn ’85
I remember arguing over going to The Nines or Chariot for pizza. They were basically the same, but The Nines had the deep fried ‘shrooms as well. How can you explain the sweetness of that crust? I know my friends were all Souvlaki House pizza people, but I was Chariot.
Amy Scheinberg Jones ’85
Back in the ’80s food wasn’t nearly as multicultural as it is now, especially not in Ithaca. Diversity back then was deep dish pizza at The Nines vs. regular crust at Chariot vs. “Greek” style at Souvlaki House (with spinach and feta on top and a Greek salad on the side). The Greek House opened later — two Greek pizza restaurants in tiny Collegetown. I remember my roommate and I splitting gigantic cheese-filled calzones at the Chariot, and feeling ill afterward. Then of course there was the Hot Truck at 3 a.m. on West Campus — PMPs (Poor Man’s Pizza), MBCs (Meatball with Cheese Sub), Sooeys (short for suicide, because it was huge and had everything on it) and my favorite, WGCs (Wet Garlic with Cheese). Nothing better than that at 3 in the morning.
I think there may have been one Chinese restaurant in Ithaca and maybe in my later years a sushi bar. But it was mostly bagels, pizza and Purity ice cream. For fancy dinners when your parents came to visit, there was L’Auberge and the Inn at Taughannock Falls, and a restaurant in a train car down in Ithaca.
Michael Reeber ’86
The first thing that comes to mind is the 10 p.m. Straight break. It was where Okenshields would serve chocolate chip cookies. I remember eating 1,000 calories of barely-cooked cookies and whole milk!!
Stephen Shimony ’91
Whether it was after a night of drinking or for Sunday afternoon dinner, nothing was or ever will be better than a WGC from the Hot Truck. [Another favorite memory] was with my buddy Alan at the Souvlaki House. We were with two girls and Alan would not agree to pay for them; he made us go Dutch.
Ben Ranard ’11
I first experienced the Cornell Dairy ice cream as an 11-year-old spending a couple of weeks sailing on Cayuga Lake as part of a Cornell summer camp. The food at Cornell may have been my primary reason for applying early decision.
The first month of freshman year, I ate ice cream three meals per day: ice cream on waffles for breakfast, a cup of ice cream after lunch and a brownie/cookie sundae/sandwich after dinner. After realizing I was putting myself on the fast track to the Freshman 10 (which was already starting to be called the Freshman 15), I decided to cut back to ice cream at only two meals per day.
So, to all graduating seniors, savor your last Ithacan meals, and especially your celebratory graduation meal. These same foods may continue your celebration, conjuring memories of your time at Cornell, for many, many years to come.