Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Food and Memory

Is it just me, or does this time of year really make you hungry for the foods of your childhood?

I think it's the smell of celery and onions sauteeing in butter that gets it started for me. Early every Thanksgiving, right around the same time the Macy's parade would come on, my grandma would be stirring up those vegetables, while my cousin and I finished tearing up bread and putting it in the lid of the roasting pan. Probably it wasn't actually butter she used, but sticks of margarine (or 'oleo',as she calls it) instead. Ever since then, that specific aroma takes me right back to all those happy holidays spent with my family.

Certainly, I'll be making some of the traditional cookies and candies I always make over the holidays, but lately my mind has been on the more everyday foods of my childhood.

My mom's spaghetti meat sauce, meatloaf (I always wanted the end pieces) and German potato salad. A ham steak served with baked potatoes. The grape juice my grandparents canned using the grapes from their own backyard arbor, and we mixed with lemonade. The noodles my grandfather rolled out on a tablecloth until you could see the strawberries printed on it. My aunt's homemade Chex Mix, always served out of a gigantic Tupperware container, always with about three times the spice and butter the recipe calls for.

For Thanksgiving this year, I bought what I thought were frozen dinner rolls, but was actually frozen dinner roll dough. Fortunately, I realized it in time to thaw the dough out and let it rise, and O. pronounced the end result "the best rolls in the world." I wonder if these will remain in his memory, like the loaf of bread my grandma made one rainy cold summer evening I was spending with my grandparents and cousins at their cottage remains in mine.

My mother used to use frozen bread dough to make caramel cinnamon rolls probably once a week or so when I was growing up. She made the caramel sauce right in the cake pan she would bake the rolls in, setting it right on top of the stove burner to melt the brown sugar and butter together. She timed the baking so that they would come out of the oven right as dinner was over, set pan over a plate and carry it to the table. Each of us would sit there reaching for roll after roll, usually slathered with some butter that melted right on the warm roll. My brother and I would rub the side of the roll not covered in caramel directly into the remains of the carmel sauce on the plate. We'd usually polish off the whole pan right there at the table, because they were never the same any later than that.

I'd been thinking about those rolls, too, so I just made my own pan of caramel rolls using the remaining bread dough from last week. I have my doubts they will taste as good as the ones in my memory. I can never get the caramel quite right -- it turns out grainy, not smooth and sticky. I have a feeling I don't use enough butter, but it could just be that nothing ever truly lives up to a food memory.

What about you? What are the foods you fondly recall, or try to recreate from memory?


tracey.becker1@gmail.com said...

My mom always made smelt on Christmas Eve. Not anymore, though...

We always had Chex Mix when company came over. Mmmmmmm....

I remember eating rabbit spaghetti at my grandma's house as a kid. NOTHING is better than spaghetti with rabbit sauce. NOTHING.

CaraBee said...

It's funny how food plays such a roll in our memories. I was just telling someone the other day about the wonderful foods from my family meals. Nothing exotic, but traditions for us, nonetheless. It's hard living so far from my family, I don't get those treats as often as I would like, making them all the more precious.

I tried making caramel rolls, or monkey bread, as we call it, the other day. Didn't turn out as well as I had hoped.

mep said...

Those caramel cinnamon rolls have my stomach rumbling big time. Yum.

Some of my childhood favorites are my Grandma's spiced apples (sliced apples cooked with red hot candies--so good) and her Chex Mix (kept in roasting pan in the oven).

My mom makes awesome yeast dough cinnamon rolls. I've had a hankering for her chicken and rice casserole a lot lately as well. And her chili--my Grandma P's recipe.

I could name a million more things, but I'm too hungry! Thanks for the tantalizing post.