Much of our adult lives is spent trying to recapture tastes and moments of pleasure we knew as children.
This is especially true at Thanksgiving, when family cookbooks are dusted off and consulted. In between smells of cider mulling and turkey roasting, I find myself thinking of family members who are no longer around to share their culinary wisdom.
My grandmother, for example, was a spectacular cook in a hearty, Midwestern kind of way. Her homemade creamed corn was the best: salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy.
Grandmother's piece de resistance, however, was her oyster dressing: a light, souffle-like concoction that I have not been able to duplicate in 12 years of trying.
Mom rarely cooked for Thanksgiving; she was outdone by Grandmother's epicurean prowess. Mom shone more in everyday dishes, such as vegetable soup in a beef broth. Even if I went to the same butcher, bought the same cut of meat, used the same vegetables, the soup would still be a pale imitation of hers. It's the same story with the orange sweet rolls she made on Christmas morning.
As an avid consumer of these foods, you would think I'd have learned how to make them. Before she passed away, Grandmother did explain the secret to her oyster dressing, but it didn't help. And I still have the recipe card on which Mom jotted a few pointers about her vegetable soup.
Perhaps it's not possible to re-create these dishes because they exist in memory - in the shared comfort and love we felt as children. But we honor those memories by bringing to our holiday table the warmth and delight that went into making them.
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