Tastes and Tales of Thanksgivings Past
Real china clatters and glasses clink. Even the children hold glassware rather than sippy cups. The table is filled to overflowing with breads and meats and pastas and sauces, vegetables and more. My grandma, hair held back by a babushka, apron on, scurries in and out of the kitchen doorway, bringing extra gravy and filling drinks.
There was something about the way dinners sounded and felt at my grandparents' house that was different than anywhere else. There was this sense of routine and order. We knew there would be dishes full of ripe olives on the table and buttered noodles would sit in a giant serving dish right alongside a bright gelatin mold. We knew which glasses we would use, and so did my grandma as she set them out right where we sat each and every time. The house would smell a certain way and the food always tasted like it should, her signature salad coming first.
On my mom's side of the family things progressed in an opposite manner. There were always too many cooks in the kitchen, bumping into each other and making sure each of the others heard their opinion on the right way to make the gravy. Dinner is placed buffet style on the counter, and the announcement is made that the food is ready. Paper plates hold turkey and stuffing, and with no table large enough for us all, we spread out in the living room with TV trays or even sometimes on the floor, curled up alongside the couch.
Looking back, it's humorous how different the two sides of my family were and still are: one very orderly and organized and the other relaxed and loose. Yet Thanksgiving was something congruent for me. Whether I was at one house or the other, it still meant the same things. There was a familiarity of being with family and coming together to eat.
Many of my memories are marked by the tastes and smells of food. My brain imprints certain smells and flavors into different situations, and I've found myself transported back to a time and place just by interacting with those same flavors. Sometimes I've worked for them, as I try and test my grandma's recipes, searching for the right combination to get to hers, and other times they have come in on their own.
Whether you're staying home and cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your family or traveling somewhere else to have it or even just meeting friends at the theater, take a moment to appreciate what's around you over a plate of turkey or a bag of buttered popcorn. Hold the flavor of the perfect mashed potato in your mouth and taste what it feels like to be there eating them in that moment.