Mary Dell writes: Thanksgiving dinner is our favorite meal, hands down. Not only is it a day of fabulous eating, family and football, but it is also the day when we give our diets a hall pass, stuffing ourselves in a way we would never dream of the other 364 days of the year. But more than the food we savor, it is the scent of the feast that we love and that endures.
The sense of smell more than sight, hearing or even taste, is where we store our most cherished and vintage memories. Once you raise that first fork full of stuffing, you begin breathing in a memory of your childhood home. As you sit at the table with your friends and your kids, your parents, aunts, cousins…..everyone starts their own homeward journey remembering Thanksgivings when they were very, very young.
Lisa and I are getting ready for the holiday at our two homes and have asked our friends about their traditions. While hewing to the classics, they shared a few favorites, both traditional and idiosyncratic, but all treasured like the family heirlooms they indeed are.
Imagine getting up on Thanksgiving morning to the luscious smell of Darryl’s pumpkin bread baking in the oven. An aromatic wake up call, the scent might lure even our sleepy college kids out of their beds and, still in pajamas, out to the kitchen for a slice and their first cup of coffee. Sharon’s kids depend on her cinnamon rolls to get the holiday started early on Thursday while Risa’s festive breakfast is French toast made with Challah and eggnog.
Slowly, slowly the turkey begins a four, five, six-hour roast, until it’s finally ready to be presented as the centerpiece of the feast. With the bird underway, the sides get our full attention and this is where family traditions and regional preferences come into play. Many of us have dishes we prepare once a year on Thanksgiving and only Thanksgiving. Helene told us about the “Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad” she makes with cherry jello and Caryn offered her favorite, so-called “Cheese Jello,” which she acknowledges as sounding weird but swears her family loves it.
At Lisa C’s house, it is a corn casserole she bakes with cheese until it’s melted and bubbling. She learned that sliding a double batch into the oven delights her daughters and grandsons, who all crave a little extra to take home with them.
Though we live in New York, my kitchen smells more like my mom’s house in Texas with cornbread baking in a cast iron skillet and the roasted sweet potatoes I whip with bourbon for a souffle. Each Thanksgiving dinner, I keep my most traditional of sources, Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook ( c1957) close at hand.
Potatoes, stuffing, roasted butternut squash, rolls – each dish renders a unique smell. With the ever-more ready turkey roasting in the oven, these combine, creating a signature fragrance greeting guests the moment they step out of their cars.
Pumpkin pie, clearly, is king but caramel apple and chocolate pecan pies sound amazing, especially if Mindy, both pastry chef and writer, is the one baking. So happy that our Hall Passes last through dessert!
Everyone gathers, talks, eats, takes seconds, and…..dinner ends, with a slice of pie and a side of football. Cleanup. Deep breath, rest….
If we’ve planned it just right, Thanksgiving stretches into a multi-day feast with signature leftovers as the eagerly anticipated act two. Sharon gushes about her mom’s turkey chile and turkey meatloaf. For Theresa, an incredible photographer and cook, it’s turkey noodle soup.
But Thanksgiving holiday doesn’t stop on Friday if your guests arrive carrying suitcases. When you have college kids coming back for a holiday break, they long for the home-cooking that is sorely missing on their meal plans.
Lisa L received an SOS from both her college daughters for matzoh ball soup. Each one sick, and sick of dorm food, she is ready with both the soup and the TLC they can count on once they set foot in the door.
While the multiple dishes that make up Thanksgiving dinner create a complex bouquet, a big pot of soup simmering for hours on the stove has a simpler smell. More like a pot of love, the smell of Lisa’s chicken noodle soup permeates her house, filling it with both the scent of the dish and affection of the cook.
With great thanks to our friends who contributed to this story, Mary Dell and Lisa wish you all a delicious Thanksgiving week.