Drinks That Bring Back Memories: Kern's Horchata


[Flickr: rogerimp]

The holidays tend to bring back memories. I'm revisiting a few of mine early, as I go through some boxes that I've had in storage for a while.

Many of the things in those boxes date back to my time in Kalispell, Montana, a town of about 20,000 in the northwestern part of the state, where I shared a little duplex with six other guys while I attended Flathead Valley Community College and worked at a local burrito place* before moving south to Texas and then on to finish school in New York City.

I can describe my time in Kalispell with a back seat's worth of objects: A pack of Camels, a tall energy drink, an Arizona iced tea. My beginner's banjo. A plate of biscuits and gravy from Sykes', a shabby old-timers' favorite with ten-cent coffee that's since gone out of business. And, more than anything, a half-gallon carton of Kern's horchata.

Montana might seem like an unlikely place to find horchata, but that's where I tried it first. Kern's horchata isn't exactly like Mexican horchata, which I'd discover later and enjoy less. Kern's is thick and creamy, like melted ice cream, and silted with sugar and cinnamon. I bought it for the first time on a snack run some weekend in the late summer, and kept buying it as temperatures plummeted well below zero and our weekends became more and more about the television in our living room.

I left Kalispell in December, but returned to Montana the following spring to work on a ranch a couple of hours to the south. The first thing that I did when I arrived in northwestern Montana—before dropping my boxes, before visiting friends, before reporting to work—was head to the store for a carton of Kern's horchata, to mark my return to a place I'd missed dearly. They didn't have it. I went to another grocery store. No. When I had the time, I drove back to our old grocery store in Kalispell. Not there, either.

I have not, in fact, been able to find Kern's horchata anywhere in the years since I left Kalispell. And believe me, I've looked. In Texas, in Arizona, in New Mexico. In Washington and Oregon. In New York City. All over the Southeast. According to the Kern's website, the horchata is available in some of those places. I've been unlucky, I guess. But because it has been so long since I tried that horchata—and because I drank so much of it, once, though I don't know what I'd think of it now—it's sure to prompt a rush of snowy memories when I do come across it on a supermarket shelf somewhere. And I look forward to that.

How about you? What are the drinks that take you back to different parts of your lives? The different places you've lived? What drinks remind you of home?

*If you ever find yourselves in that part of the country, by the way, Taco del Sol—a Missoula-based chain of 10 restaurants—is far from authentic, but pretty good; if you visit the Kalispell location, tell them I sent you. I've heard through the grapevine that the owners remember me as the only person who ever wore cowboy boots on the burrito line.