Our Memoir Writers Share Their Favorite Food Memories
Pies, mashed potatoes, and of course, turkey. Not only is holiday fare delicious, these annual culinary traditions often spark nostalgic memories for us writers, giving us fodder for our writing. To get a taste (see what we did there?) of these food-related memories, we asked our memoir students: “What’s your favorite holiday food and what memory does it invoke for you?”
Read the answers from our PWN writers below. Then use this as a prompt for your own writing!
Warning: Don’t read on an empty stomach!
Diane Bier who is enrolled in Laura Cyphers’s Poetry Intensive class as well as Marissa Elliott’s Memoir class said:
The table is set with china. We drink out of Waterford champagne glasses regardless of the beverage choice. In our house, it’s all about the mashed potatoes. They are so smooth. There’s no butter, cream cheese, or sour cream. Nothing but milk and beat them until they are smooth. So smooth like chocolate mousse. No lumps. And the mashed potatoes swim in savory gravy or maybe it’s more like they drown in savory gravy. My father-in-love loved lumpy mashed potatoes and always requested lumpy mashed instead of smooth. Even though he passed away, someone now asks for lumpy mashed in his honor! And by the way, the dog gets his own plate—a china plate, too! As he should!
Charles Chrystol who is enrolled in Jennifer Chauhan’s Memoir Intensive said:
The first Thanksgiving of my first marriage, my wife Sylvia volunteered me to cook the turkey for the family dinner. “They’re curious about how you do the dressing,” she said. This was my mother’s recipe. Carrot stuffing. The exercise we got from the chopping and grating would put Jack LaLane out of business. With a big wooden bowl, a box grater, and the hockmesser (otherwise known as a chopping blade) we would attack an array of vegetables. Grate the onions, garlic, and carrots. Add salt, pepper, matzoh meal (Jewish breadcrumbs), and a pinch of baking powder. The aromas begin to take over from where the onions had stung your eyes. An egg helps bring everything together as the mixture waits to be packed in the bird. I rinsed the turkey and patted it dry. It was seasoned inside and out. I made a compound butter of anchovy and herbs to go under the skin. I packed the stuffing and stitched it closed like a back alley surgeon—the stuffing needed room to swell in the roasting. Dinner went well. My mother-in-law was surprised. She kept asking, “What was this stuffing? We always do cornbread but this was different. Sweeter maybe?” Sylvia asked me the same question, even after we were divorced. “How do you make that carrot stuffing?” I told her, “It’s a family secret … and you’re no longer family.”
Elena Fahey who is currently enrolled in Jennifer Gaites’s Memoir class, said:
The sheer volume of Thanksgiving pies at our gatherings always amazes me. At the end of a four-hour feeding frenzy, starting with appetizers and drinks, followed by fowl, stuffing, potatoes of all colors doused in cream, sugar, spices, and sometimes marshmallows, we arrive at dessert. Dessert entails at least five different kinds of pies to be topped with more cream. Our family has a chocolate cream for one brother-in-law and a banana cream for another on the other side of the family. Then my mother-in-law likes to make a pumpkin chiffon and her sister always brings a pecan. Someone buys a regular pumpkin as there is nothing particularly special about making one, but its absence is not allowed. And the nieces generally make an apple bake of some sort, to keep it healthy (haha!).
Pat MacMillan who is currently enrolled in Jennifer Chauhan’s Memoir Intensive class said:
Potatoes with plenty of heated milk and butter added, mashed by hand, gravy made from turkey drippings. With my fork, I create a well in my mountain of potatoes, pour a ladle full of gravy to fill it. I carefully eat around the mountain to keep the potato dam upright as long as possible. When my grandchildren stay overnight, the dinner they request includes mashed potatoes, which I make like my mother’s. They follow my ritual, making a well, pouring in the gravy, savoring the flavors as long as possible.
Tami Wisniewski who is currently enrolled in Marissa Elliott’s Memoir class said:
When I was a child, I would wake up to the smell of turkey, rich and complex, evoking an image of the salty butter seeping into the skin in my mind’s eye. The smell slowly spread through our home as the balloons from Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade danced across the TV. Oh, the anticipation! And then it would come out of the oven, bulbous—an array of golden to deep glistening browns, resting on an old wooden cutting board. Sometimes I would sneak under the foil and steal pieces of skin. I loved the crunch of it, the saltiness, as I attempted to offer my hunger a little tease, but not too much! I waited patiently for guests to arrive, mostly extended family, sometimes a friend or two, I waited and I waited for the feast to be unveiled. Long after the meal, we would sit as a family and watch King Kong. As Jessica Lange screamed from the sacrificial pulpit as Kong approached her, I would sit, content, eating a bowl of mashed potatoes, topped with turkey, and on top of that, stuffing, drenched in my Mom’s homemade gravy. As he whisked her into the jungle, I would stare, captivated by the story I knew beginning to end, end to beginning, as though it was the first time I watched it.
Thank you, writers, for sharing these wonderful memories of your beloved holiday dishes. Whether you request lumpy mashed potatoes or smooth, our PWN Team wishes all our writers and their families a Happy ( and delicious) Thanksgiving!