When I was a kid, I remember my mom telling me that as she got older, she started remembering things from her childhood that she had thought she had completely forgotten. It seemed that some memories were like fermented foods, stored away and left to mature over time by themselves until the time was right to unveil them again.
As a kid, this didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. But now that I am doing my own older-getting, I understand what she meant. Flashes of memory will pop into my head unexpectedly. They are often little things. Unremarkable events and ordinary days from many years ago. And sometimes these memories carry their own smells.
Like the smell of charred corn on the cob, for example. It’s always tied to my memories of trips we took to see my aunt’s family, who lived closer to the sea. As we drove back in the evening with our windows rolled down, the car would fill with the smoky, sweet smell of corn cooking on coals. There were always vendors selling it on the sidewalks and sometimes, my dad would stop the car and buy some for us. I burned my tongue many times on that corn. It was impossible to wait for it to cool down.
Roasting chestnuts is another one. I grew up without central heating. We had one portable gas heater that we huddled around in the evenings as we watched TV in the living room. Sometimes, my parents would buy fresh chestnuts and bring them home. I remember my dad would score the tops with an X and then put them on the top of the heater. Their smell as they roasted would fill the room and my sister and I would wait breathlessly for my parents to take them off the heater, blow on them to cool them down, and peel them for us. The sweet and nutty flesh was as good as candy.
Chestnut and Apple Soup – Slightly adapted from Epicurious.com
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 small Golden Delicious (or other sweet variety) apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 7.41-oz jar vacuum-packed chestnuts
1 large celery stalk, chopped
3 small fresh thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons brandy
3 cups (or more) chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian version)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
pumpkin seed oil, for garnish (you can also use hazelnut oil, or simply olive oil)
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, apple, chestnuts, celery, and thyme sprigs. Sauté until onion is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add brandy; stir until liquid is absorbed, about 1-2 minutes. Add 3 cups broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chestnuts are soft, about 15 minutes; cool slightly. Remove and discard thyme sprigs.
Working in batches, puree soup in blender until very smooth. Return soup to pan and cook until heated through, adding more chicken broth by tablespoonfuls to thin as needed and stirring often, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide soup among bowls. Top with dollop of crème fraîche and drizzle with pumpkin seed oil. Serve immediately.