Dressing for Thanksgiving…

9496F288-14EA-488D-936D-44DEAE40EE38And so it begins… It came to me that Fall and Winter Holidays in the South begin and end with Cornbread. Yes, we eat it all year round, but cornbread is the one thing that sets the Southern cooking apart from other regions. Make the first pot of vegetable soup, chili or chicken and dumplings and while it simmers a Southern cook is making a pone of cornbread. As Thanksgiving approaches- Southerners are looking forward to their own family’s recipe for Dressing. Indulge me here- true Southerners don’t eat Stuffing- Ever. We might tolerate Stuffing, but count on hearing this if anyone makes Stuffing for Thanksgiving-

‘ Bless her heart, she didn’t make Dressing. Can you believe she made stuffing? I think her momma’s from New Jersey- no wonder. Now, Eugene- don’t worry honey, I’m making us a pan of dressing to go with our turkey.’

And no, we don’t call it Cornbread Dressing…if you ever find a dressing recipe that goes with Turkey- first be skeptical, then know- it might be called Cornbread Dressing– but y’all, we don’t say that! It’s Turkey and Dressing.  Or Chicken and Dressing. We don’t have time to specify the Cornbread– we know what kind of dressing we’re talking about, though I did find a precious recipe for Cornbread that specified – Iron Skillet Cornbread!

13A59A1E-5B2C-43E5-AB44-2B22277A9527Forget worrying about cooking the Turkey…there’s hotlines for Turkey! Not so with Dressing. It’s a generational thing. The recipes aren’t written down, okay… rarely. Thanksgiving Turkey and Dressing has…almost a mythical quality. Write the recipe down and you still won’t get the taste and flavor of the real deal. It goes by taste, texture and feel.

Now, I’ve eaten many many many helpings of dressing… okay maybe that’s one too many ‘many’s’ ….let’s just say I’ve eaten a lot of dressing and leave it at that. Some dressing I’ve eaten, I wouldn’t put out for a possum to eat- others were sublime, just not mine.  I still want the taste of my family’s – specifically my grandmother’s Dressing on Thanksgiving!  My momma made excellent dressing, she used my grandmother’s recipe-  it was moist, seasoned just right- even developed a better flavor with leftovers. Every. Single. Year. the family legend or horror story was recounted…

Mimi told about the year they went to Texas for Thanksgiving with my uncle Chester. Chester might have owned an oil well or two- but he might have been married to a Yankee, maybe of Italian descent- she committed a cardinal sin. Uncle Chester’s wife added Oregano instead of Sage to her Dressing. Like I said, every single year- Mimi would exclaim-

‘Can you believe Chester’s wife put Oregano in that dressing? It wasn’t fit to eat! I thought I would gag, had to spit it out into my napkin and excuse myself from the table!’

Could I add here? I never even knew Uncle Chester’s wife had a given name! The only time Mimi brought up Uncle Chester’s wife was in connection with that awful dressing loaded with oregano.

Real dressing can’t be made in one sitting. Last week, I baked two pound cakes, one for the freezer and one for a bereavement table- and three pones of cornbread. All three pans of cornbread also went in the freezer for the upcoming holiday, this week. Now please note: it’s not just cornbread in the dressing… there’s white bread crumbs (slices of bread which has been left to dry out a bit before they’re crumbled up in with the cornbread. Now, because I’m superstitious and Mimi’s grandchild- I add a few crushed saltine crackers and – this is importantat least one Biscuit is also crumbled up in the cornbread portion of the Dressing. Please don’t laugh- I can actually tell if the biscuit is left out!9496F288-14EA-488D-936D-44DEAE40EE38

All of the cornbread, bread crumbs and (added quirks) mixture must be tossed together, then one must carefully add the dried sage, a bit of thyme, salt and pepper to taste. I have to stop here- this is a point of contention. Normally, I prefer fresh herbs- just not for Dressing. I once ate dressing with so much fresh sage- it had a green tinge to it. Not. Good. Much better to go with the old formula of dried herbs. And yes, I almost had my very own- ‘oregano moment’ with that fresh sage dressing! I still break out with a bead of sweat across my brow thinking about it

Then, there’s celery and onions. We might need to explain here- some add celery and onions in without cooking them, some saute celery and onions in butter,  I personally add the celery and onions to my homemade chicken broth and cook them gently until just warmed and softened, then, I also add a bit of fresh celery for texture.  Peculiar right?

Dressing takes a lot of broth. For our family dressing- at least 3-4 cups of broth is required, preferably homemade broth- I make sure to have extra store bought broth on hand.  Then there’s the Custard part (which some fine Southern Cooks do not add to their Dressing), I do- I make a custard of up to 6 eggs and 2 cups of whole milk stirred together, then poured over the cornbread, seasoning and broth mixture. This is left to soak over night in …usually one large pan and maybe one or two other smaller pans (these are for leftovers or emergency extras). My family actually believes that I can’t make a small amount of dressing. They are right!

After soaking for a number of hours or overnight- the whole thing is baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. sometimes a bit longer- it will be slightly puffed and golden. It’s moist on the inside and has a bit of crust on it- overbake it? And the Dressing is dry. Oh lord, when is some smart Southern Cook going to set up a hotline for Dressing?

The whole thing is totally worth the effort and I honestly wish I had this recipe for Mimi’s Dressing written down…but, y’all-  it’s just a few days before Thanksgiving and I’ve got a sweet potato casserole, a strawberry jello/ pretzel salad (yes, I know it sounds awful, but it’s not), cranberry sauce, gravy base (you can never have too much gravy), a few casseroles and side dishes, rolls. mashed potatoes and…I don’t know what all; not to mention that Turkey to bake. At least the pound cake is already baked!

I’m apologize for not having a beauty shot of my Thanksgiving Dressing- it will be made fresh and hot for our meal. And, I have to say… we’ll all be very grateful!  Now, I know it might sound crazy to folks who don’t live in the South– just remember down here, there’s no Stuffing- oh no, we’re Dressing for Thanksgiving!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Photographs are obviously mine.

*Sorry no recipe, maybe I’ll try to get one written down! But if you try to make Dressing with sweet cornbreadthe taste will be all off and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Thanksgiving in the South…

 

FABD3DC6-D245-4805-B4AE-374585D66D08It’s occurred to me that Thanksgiving in the South offers some interesting enlightenment of our people and our region.. All regions know how interesting, maddening, delightful and hilarious family holidays can be! Here we never want to be too critical of the family because, well it’s not exaggerating to say that Southern Food, Southern Beauty and Southern Accents are far superior. The South has eye popping beauty- refined, rustic or rough as a cob, like the people who’re from here.

Take the Grumpy Uncle who can get loud- you know the type- knows it all but never knows when to hush up.  His scope of the political landscape is daunting- he’s a ‘law and order, hang ’em high and often’ kind of guy- His wife watches NPR and graciously corrects him -saying ‘Thank you darling for sharing your perspective’. They stopped watching the nightly news together years ago and have agreed to disagree. She likes diversity- attends Combined Worship Services with all Communities- Grumpy Uncle stays home.

Then there’s the Nephew who lives for the Opening Day of Hunting Season- Bucky’s always dusty like the chert roads he drives on. Sometimes we think  Bucky loves his huntin’ dogs- Jackpot, Fang and  Cream Puff more than he loves his own Momma! Recently, Bucky offered to take his Momma up to the hunting lodge; told her he’d teach her how to shoot; she  politely declined. Secretly she keeps her great grandfather’s pearl handled pistol under the mattress, loaded. In fact, she won’t allow her mattress to be turned- evah.  The mattress weighs fifty ‘leven pounds and is reported to be worth a fortune.img_1579

Then there’s Aunt Eugenia, who always asks- ‘Who your people are?’. It’s been reported that a distant cousin was thinking of marrying a questionable young man- Aunt Eugenia wrote to the State Director of Archives and History  asking for the lineage of the young man. She’s had a working relationship with the Department for decades. The bane of Aunt Eugenia’s existence is her Niece, the political activist, the one who agreed to attend the full round of Catechism Classes at First Presbyterian and then announced to God and the Church Elders that she would not consider putting herself forward for Confirmation and Sprinkling even though the programs had already been printed. Her family was horrified.75396FD9-9E4D-465A-8974-D81AB94126B1

Who can forget Long Tall Double First Cousin Floyd? He led singings at Sacred Harp Conventions  for 50 years. Everyone feels obligated to ask Uncle Floyd to say the Blessing for Thanksgiving Dinner. With bowed heads, the women struggle to keep the food warm while Cousin Floyd starts in praying-  opening up with Original Sin in the Garden of Eden- ending fifteen minutes later with a flourish at the Great White Throne. All are very thankful by then.

Uncle Floyd’s  plump wife is the Pentacostal Princess of the Covered Dish- and I do mean prize winning. Princess wrestles with high blood pressure and swollen ankles. The high salt content in Cream of Mushroom Soup and Canned Onion Rings are contributing factors. E025EC53-CDFF-46F0-AA1C-F42608981D48

At the other end of the table is the Union Boss Aunt whose husband is Foreman on Third Shift. He had to learn how to make Biscuits and Cornbread and the best Blackberry Jam this side of heaven, just to survive his working wife’s inability and disinclination to ever come near an Iron Skillet; though she is proud to say– her Ironworkers have been making Iron Skillets for generations. She’s tough as pig iron- he’s a big teddy bear.

Then there’s the rowdy offspring of Grandmaw Bama, a full blooded Cherokee- Grown men whoopin’ it up as part owners of Mississippi Casinos. Still. These Indian Chiefs were smart enough to marry good Methodist girls- quiet, unassuming DAR members. Their folks are the Bankers, Lawyers, Doctors and  Accountants. Generally their mothers are Pillars of Society or Teachers who wear sensible shoes. They know the ropes of society’s high demands. We count on these ladies to bring Tea Sandwiches, tiny Dinner Rolls and Petit Fours, tiny being the operative word.2015-06-05 12.02.11 (2)

And isn’t there always a skinny freckled Nephew with buck teeth who is the official photographer? Freddie has an annoying habit of catching the Beauty Queens without a smidge of lipstick on, looking pale as ghosts! The Beauty Queens exhibit varying degrees of glamour- for instance, the Cotton Queen and the Peach Queen are a cut above the Peanut and Boll Weevil Queens. The long line of Southern Queens manage households wisely, run the vacuum cleaner wearing  Tiaras and no matter how old they get- will always be Queen of Everything. 3AB23828-CEAD-44C1-875A-59D7F4612246

And dare I mention the motorcycle riding Vietnam Veteran, Billy Jack who brought home a sweet foreign wife? Always wearing matching bandanas- Billy Jack bears a striking resemblance to Willie Nelson. His wife has lived in the South 40 years but still thinks dumplings are steamed! Their son was a child prodigy, he learned Classical Violin before he was three, while simultaneously perfecting Hogcallin’ .

Aunt DawDaw keeps chickens and can be counted on to bring the Devilled Eggs. DawDaw’s son inherited the Family Cotton Farm and shocked everyone by not majoring in Agriculture- Fitzgerald got a degree in  Horticulture with a concentration in Floral Design. Fitz makes Wreaths and Floral Arrangements with the Family Cotton, his designs grace the Front Doors and Thanksgiving Tables all over the place. Folks whisper he’s topping high cotton makin’ more on his floral designs than a bale of cotton brings!  Fitz is a bit peculiar but all of the unmarried girls want to marry him or at the very least have Wedding Bouquets made by Fitzgerald! He’s admired by his whole family; Fitzgerald saved the family farm…and made enough to buy a fancy cotton pickin’ machine…2016-02-12 15.52.26

Like cyclist Billy Jack, Great Uncle Chester also married a foreigner. Bless her heart she was a Yankee.  Uncle Chester moved her down to Texas. Out in the middle of nowhere, Chester promptly drilled an oil well or two- then had the nerve to invite the whole family to his Ranch for Thanksgiving. Of all things. Listen- we don’t have Stuffing made with bread balls or cubes whatever they are– We have Dressing, Cornbread Dressing!  Thanksgiving Food is Sacred in the South. Don’t mess with it. Unfortunately, Uncle Chester’s wife tried to make Cornbread Dressing- and failed miserably. She put a liberal amount of Oregano in the Dressing Mix. She mixed up Oregano for Sage! All of that Oregano caused a gag reflux in Aunt Flora, who actually had to excuse herself from the table! She never forgot nor forgave it.

Aunt Flora was a real southern lady with unfailing good manners and an impeccable cook.  Every year without fail- Aunt Flora made the Cornbread Dressing -hissing that she would nevah get over Chester’s wife- ‘Can you believe it! She put Oregano in the Dressin’!’  On her deathbed, Aunt Flora stretched out her frail hand and said – ‘If you evah put Oregano in the Dressin’ I will twirl three times and come up out of mah grave!’ No one wants to risk it. Clumps of Sage were planted by her gravestone and granted perpetual care.

This is the South, y’all. We’re alike but different. Some of us think the others should be more open minded- others cling to the old ways.  We may not yell for the same SEC football team but we all agree it’s the best football in the country. We never disagree on how pretty it is down here or how to make decent food, especially Decent Cornbread Dressing.

The South simply can’t be described in all of its civilized or uncivilized behavior of varying degrees. Let me put it this way, Norman Rockwell never painted a Southern Family having a Southern Thanksgiving- Mr. Rockwell would not have inflicted that sight on the General Public. However crazy, peculiar, eccentric we might be- we defend her, overlook her eccentricities and step carefully in our Graveyards for fear of all the Rolling Over, Rising Up and Twirling surely going on in the South

This is a tale of a Southern Thanksgiving, your own family will look positively sane by comparison!  Oh lord, y’all- like all good Southern tales, this one is part Truth, part Myth and part Outright Lies…

Love y’all, Camellia

*I do confess to havin’ a great grandmother- full blooded Cherokee and affectionately called Bama. *This is a work of fiction! Any similarities are pure coincidence and for that I pity you.

*All of the photographs are mine.