When my grandmother passed away, my mother took over responsibilities for Thanksgiving dinner. Well, she took on all of the responsibilities. She always helped Gram. They shared duties. I helped Mom then. I took the entire week of Thanksgiving off so that I could help with the shopping and cleaning and cooking. Since Mom passed away, Thanksgiving dinner is held at my aunt’s house. But, I’ve taken over making the stuffing. It’s Gram’s recipe. I was her taster. I’d let her know if she’d seasoned the meat with the right amounts of sage and poultry seasoning. She trusted my judgement. That was huge.
I usually make the turkey, too. This year I asked my aunt if I could come over a day early to use her sink to clean the turkey since I’m having “slow drain” issues. It wouldn’t be good to use my sink at all. And, since I take everything there on Thanksgiving day, it would just be less I need to bring over after being cooked. What started out as me asking to use her kitchen became her doing the work tomorrow. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I didn’t want to add more work on her.
I’m still in charge of the stuffing, though. The process starts on Wednesday. The ground beef needs to be cooked and browned. The celery and onions need to be chopped and sautéd. It all needs to be mixed together with seasonings, eggs, and bread. And it’s mixed by hand! It’s messy…I love it! In the morning, another taste test determines if everything settled and maintained the right flavors or if more seasonings are needed. Once it’s just right, into the oven it goes!
Ultimately, though, it’s not about the taste of the food for me. Most of us remember the “taste of” something pretty easily. And we reminisce about it and share those stories with friends. Sure, I remember the taste of Gram’s food. But, more than that, I remember the smells.
That’s really what ties me to the holiday – the smells. It’s going to be very odd not waking up tomorrow morning with the house smelling divinely like roasting turkey. (I’d put the turkey in the oven around 1am and take it out when I got up in the morning.) Since my aunt is cooking the turkey at her house, I’ll miss out on that.
But, right now, my house smells like stuffing. It’s the sage. I know that. But, I equate sage in any setting with Gram’s Thanksgiving stuffing. This wonderful aroma will continue through the night. I’ll fall asleep to this delightful smell. In the morning, I’ll give the smell a boost when I take the stuffing out of the fridge and give it another mix. It will inevitably need more sage. It always does. Once it starts cooking – oh, goodness! It’s likely the house will still smell like stuffing when I get home tomorrow after dinner.
The same happens at Christmas when I make Gram’s meatballs and sauce for the lasagna. The house smells heavenly – hints of basil and Italian parsley linger in the air, accented with touches of garlic.
These are foods that we make only once a year, on specific days. Sure, I could make lasagna any time I want. If I really want to roast a turkey or make some stuffing, I can do that. But then the holidays wouldn’t be as singular as they are. The memories would be tainted.
Think about your own holiday traditions. Consider the smells. Ponder the ways those fragrances ground you in memory. Breathe deeply. Savor them – the smells and the memories.