It feels good to be welcoming back these seasonal rituals. Their sameness is soothing. When I told Holly on Saturday that the annual gathering of high school friends was in just a few days, she responded, “Yay, chocolate chip cheesecake!” She remembers correctly. I’ll make chocolate chip cheesecake for that gathering, pumpkin pie and apple crisp for Thanksgiving, eggnog cheesecake and a peppermint chocolate layer cake for the cookie exchange.
All of these are foods we don’t eat the rest of the year, and there’s no particular reason that each recipe came to be assigned to one particular event. But I appreciate the sense of tradition behind it. There’s no reason to associate chocolate chip cheesecake with my high school friends and chocolate peppermint cake with the cookie exchange group. It just took hold that way.
Cooking traditions can be such a welcome ritual in uncertain times. We host Thanksgiving every year; most years I try to experiment with one or two new dishes, but I never worry about it, knowing the old favorites will always be, well, the favorites; and yet there’s always room for something different. The roasted squash salad tradition dates back to 2006, when my friend Nicole gave me the recipe, and everyone has come to expect it, but the idea of making turducken rather than traditional turkey is one Tim came up with just this year. We’ll find out if it sticks or not.
I’m finding it reassuring to pull out the annual recipes: the apple crisp recipe in my mother’s handwriting on a tattered recipe card; the recipe for chocolate mousse pie (which is always another choice for Thanksgiving dessert, alongside the apple crisp and pumpkin pie) printed out from an email address I haven’t had in seven years.
At every party and get-together, everyone is appreciative of the food no matter what I make; sometimes I worry that I wouldn’t even know if no one liked my cooking because they’re just glad I’m willing to host these events. And that could be true; they could be thinking “Oh please, not the roasted squash salad again!” But unless I ever hear that, I’ll turn back once again to the familiar favorites. It’s part of what makes this time of year feel so familiar, so ritualistic, and so dear.