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Smells like home

By Meredith Hutchinson

Everyone has those smells that just immediately transport you somewhere. They’re a feeling, and the second that they hit, you’re instantly flooded with familiarity: a place, a memory, a person, or all of the above. 


I used to spend every Thanksgiving in Virginia, where all of my mom’s side of the family lives. My grandma, my mom, and her four other siblings were each responsible for a dish, and normally it was the same dish every year. In my eyes, the winner of best dish was consistently my Aunt Merry with her cranberry apple casserole. If fall could be a smell, it would be the smell of this casserole: apples, cinnamon, oatmeal, and cranberries. It was essentially the entire reason I looked forward to Thanksgiving. 


Soon after Aunt Merry introduced this Thanksgiving casserole into our lives, we made it a Christmas dish of our own. Christmas was always celebrated with my dad’s family at home. My Uncle Sean’s Christmas dinner responsibility became the cranberry apple casserole. I was absolutely elated that I now had the opportunity to eat this casserole twice a year. The best part is undoubtedly the leftovers the next day; however, everyone in my house knows how sacred I view this casserole, so the leftovers are all mine.

Then, my junior year of high school, the girls in my class decided to organize a Friendsgiving, where we would all sign up to bring dishes. Obviously, I saw this as another opportunity to make my dear casserole. It was an instant hit, and I became renowned among my peers for this Friendsgiving delicacy. And, when senior year Friendsgiving rolled around, my classmates made sure to get in line early for a helping of my casserole, which was the first to disappear.


And now, college. Last year, amidst the confusion and stress of being a freshman in a global pandemic, my new friends and I decided to have a small Friendsgiving of our own. A new chance for me to share this casserole that has travelled with me through so many stages of my life. And, as you may have guessed, it was absolutely a hit. 


Times have changed; I now spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas at home with just my immediate family, where I am in charge of the casserole for both holidays. There are less family members at the table than there used to be. But when I take the casserole out of the oven, the familiar harmony of scents brings me to so many happy places with groups of people that consistently make me thankful. 


I wanted to pass along this recipe with you all in hopes that it brings as much warmth and joy that it’s brought me every holiday season. 


Cranberry Apple Casserole



  • ½ cup white sugar

  • ½ cup light brown sugar

  • 1 cup quick oatmeal, uncooked

  • 3 tablespoons flour

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries

  • 3 medium apples, diced (I like to peel them as well)

  • 1 cup pecans

  • ½ cup of butter, sliced



Combine sugars, oatmeal, flour, and cinnamon. Add fruit and nuts, mixing well. Spread in a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with sliced butter. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

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