Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Southern Dressing and It Ain't Clothes

Being incapacitated, I decided it would be a good time to sit down and make a list for Thanksgiving. I usually cook dinner for my Southern family every year but this time is different – the Yankees are coming! My husband’s family from New York is flying in on an airplane, not a broom (just kidding – I once said my mother-in-law flew on a broom and my son who was six at the time ask her if he could see it – family joke now). I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner with them and their food is different, good, but different. Well, this time they’ll get a true Southern Thanksgiving dinner. Surprise! No stuffing!

Aside from the turkey (any fool with an oven can bake a turkey, just ask Butterball), the centerpiece of a Southern Thanksgiving is the cornbread dressing. Every family south of the Mason-Dixon line has its own recipe for this culinary delight. One friend adds so much sage the dressing is green while another boils her dressing (This I would have to see – it conjures images of dropping the dressing like doughnuts into boiling water). Flavor ingredients vary by taste but there is one constant – cornbread. Southerners do like their cornbread.

The basic element, cornbread, is a staple for every Southern diet. You eat peas and cornbread or green beans and cornbread or simply cornbread in milk (yes, we do crumble cornbread into milk and eat it – don’t laugh, it’s good). I make my Thanksgiving cornbread with a lot more eggs and milk, stirring the concoction until it is a creamy yellow (from the eggs, not the meal). High cholesterol is part of the fun. I cook it a large iron skillet which I inherited from my grandmother (these skillets are worth their weight in gold in the South – none of the new ones can be seasoned like the ones that have had so much grease in them for years). I end up with a huge round pone of cornbread, the start of the dressing.

My earliest memory of Thanksgiving morning is of my grandmother, “Bigmama,” standing in the kitchen crumbling cornbread into a large bowl. She never would let us kids help saying there was no tellin’ what would end up in there if she did. We wanted to help. It looked like fun but then kids are stupid. I spent a few years crumbling the bread until I decided my hands could get stuck permanently in the claw position from handling so much cornbread. So, I dragged out the food processor and crammed chunks of cornbread into it. Viola’ – cornbread powder. My recipe also calls for slices of white bread that goes into the processor too. The beginning of the mixture is prepared.

I have a huge metal mixing bowl (by huge, I would estimate it can hold a gallon of water) that I use to mix the dressing in. It is never brought out of the cabinet except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In goes the cornbread and white bread, nicely crumbled, and the process begins. I cook the onions and celery, also nicely chopped by the food processor, in turkey broth. This mixture goes over the bread, along with six eggs, a large can of cream of chicken soup, a can of evaporated milk (Why you can’t just use plain milk is a mystery to me – it’s my great-grandmother’s recipe – why question greatness?), and more broth until it has the right consistency, a little more watery than oatmeal. I don’t use sage or poultry seasoning because no one in my family (especially the cook) likes it. Out comes Bigmama’s Corning Ware dish (another huge item) and I pour the mixture in it to set. I never cook it right away. It needs time to breathe, kinda like wine. After about thirty minutes of breathing, the dressing goes into a 325-degree oven for fifteen minutes then temperature is upped to 350. It cooks until it becomes firm to the touch (I am constantly touching it so as not to over cook it).

Then the fretting begins. Did I do it right? Will it be dry? Will it be too moist, too watery? I feel like Mrs. Bob Cratchit worrying over the pudding. Until…everyone proclaims it perfect, not too dry and not too moist – just right.

I suppose my Yankee family will expect stuffing. To be honest, I have no clue about how to stuff enough bread up a turkey’s a…um, rear end to feed fourteen people. Besides, I don’t think there’s any cornbread in stuffing and Southerners do like their cornbread.

What is the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving dinner? Do you make stuffing (and please tell me how you get it in the turkey) or dressing? What other dishes does your family expect with the meal? Share your recipes. I’m especially interested in Yankee recipes. I want them to feel welcomed, at least for dinner… I just won’t give up my cornbread though. After all, Southerners do like their cornbread.


  1. I haven't stuffed the bird in years. We spatchcock our turkey and grill it. Stuffing on the side. I used to bring stuffing to the friend's house, but now we've moved so I cheat cause no one here cares for fancy stuffing except me. So now it's STOVE TOP dare I admit it in the south?

    Your cornbread dressing sounds amazing. I may have to come to the south side and make it.

  2. Okay, Christine, you taught me a new word which I had to look up - spatchcock - to split the bird for grilling. Wow, never heard it before. How do you make the fancy stuffing? And yes, Luke, come to the south side...cornbread dressing is amazing.

  3. I never stuff the bird. But I've had to give up the cornbread for bread in my dressing because my hubby hates cornbread. Yes, he is a Yankee. I make a Cajun sausage dressing (I'm in the habit of calling it stuffing, truthfully, though I never stuff it in the turkey) that is spicy and yummy. If I mention trying a different kind of recipe, I get lots of grumbling and whining from the family. They demand the Cajun sausage.

  4. I do not stuff the bird. I did the first couple of years I was married. The Guy is not "from here" and he wanted white bread stuffing. Of course, I also made cornbread dressing because I had no intention of eating that other stuff. I mean, who had even heard of such a thing? About the third time I did it, I realized The Guy had come to the south side. The stuffing hadn't been touched. I told him I was done stuffing birds and done cubing white bread. Now I only crumble cornbread.

    As Cheryl said, any fool can roast a turkey but last year I did not. I did something my mother did some years when I was growing up. I ordered a smoked turkey from a local barbecue place. It was amazing.

    We have not gone down the fried turkey route, though we have friends in Georgia who always fry a wild turkey and it is wonderful. I will probably never fry a turkey. I don't want to own and store the equipment. I am also afraid I'd burn down Old Decatur and someone (probably me) would end up in the burn unit in Birmingham. That is no way to spend the Iron Bowl.

    Lynn, that Cajun stuffing sounds yummy.

    Here's a Thanksgiving recipe we love. It keeps forever and is great on sandwiches.

    Cranberry Jezebel Sauce

    1-Cup Water
    ½ Cup Sugar
    ½ Cup packed brown sugar
    12 ounces of fresh cranberries
    3 Tablespoons horseradish
    1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

    Combine water, sugar, and brown sugar in a saucepan and mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add cranberries. Return to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon into a bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Add horseradish and mustard. Mix well. Cover and chill.

    Serve with meat, on turkey sandwiches, or pour over Brie or cream cheese and serve with crackers.

  5. I don't stuff the turkey either. There's just something not quite right about sticking food up a turkey's bottom! Our Thanksgiving menu never changes and my family likes it that way. Turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole and baked mac n cheese are a must for the meal. I'll cook a few other sides and try to change that up each year. But I do add a little sage, italian and poultry seasoning to my dressing. Cheryl I haven't tried the cream of chicken soup before..hmmm. And Jean, I gonna have to try the Jezebel sauce. Sounds yummy!
    Ok, I'm leaving for lunch now. Y'all are making me hungry!! :-D

  6. Lynn, please share the Cajun sausage dressing recipe, sounds fabulous! I am always up to try new things. I love Cajun and Creole cooking.

    Jean, your Jezebel sauce just got added to my list. Thanks for including the recipe. I am definitely going to give it a try. My husband has also joined the south side, kinda sounds like we're evil or something... but they do appreciate Southern women and Southern cookin'!

    Sherry, the cream of chicken just gives it a little more flavor and creaminess. You can also add cream of celery but since I cook my celery I don't add it.

  7. I love food, especially turkey and fixin's, as anyone can tell by my ballooning waist-line. (Uh-hmm...)

    I'm a combination of southern and northern influence when it comes to Thanksgiving. My grandmother always stuffed the turkey and made Oyster Dressing on the side for the 'adults'. My other grandmother baked the turkey and stuffing separately.

    Grandmother #1: served elegant side salads, sweet potatoes and Bing Cherry Salad (a Coke Cherry jello salad with fruit. Wonderful with zing!). Each place setting was properly set. This northern woman knew who to present a fantastic holiday meal and her desserts were to die for.
    Grandmother #2: served mashed potatoes, corn, cornbread, and cranberry sauce. My best memory here: the turkey sandwiches we'd eat later on in the day while watching the Cowboys play football.

    I serve on china occassionally. The kids always loved that and they'd have Sparkling Grape juice too. My husband makes our turkey (has ever since we got married) and we work on the stuffing together before stuffing the bird. (I like the bird stuffed because the stuffing is always moist.) We use a combination of cornbread and bread stuffing with apples and celery. I love to make DeWitt Salad (broccoli/grape salad), gravy, mashed potatoes (kids demand it), green beans, homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, and my grandmother's Bing Cherry Salad. Plus, there are at least 3 pies to choose from for dessert.

    Oh! What a feast! But it's not the same without Grandmother's Bing Cherry Salad. I even take it with me if we celebrate Thanksgiving dinner early with hubby's family. A must have!

    Hurry up, Thanksgiving! I'm hungry.

  8. Just invite us over. We are an orphaned family. Okay, I'll cook my own bird. I'd love all the recipes. I've got a Sweet Potato Casserole recipe I'll share -- has burbon in it and a whole lot more yumminess.

    Course I don't have the exact amounts--I guesstimate--but here are the basics:

    Sweet potatoes (about 6-8 or Yams)
    dark brown sugar (get a good sized bag)
    orange zest
    juice from orange
    unsalted butter (better have more than one stick)
    burbon (save some for sipping)
    chopped pecans

    Peel, cut and boil sweet potatoes till tender. Drain. Mash. Add a stick of butter, brown sugar (to taste and we taste a lot), cinnamon (a tsp or so), juice from orange, about 1/4 cup or less (or more to taste) of burbon, some orange zest. Mash up really good, taste, determine if you need more sweet or burbon or...). Put into casserole and bake at 350 degrees. Meanwhile prepare the topping:

    butter (go ahead--use a stick!)
    brown sugar
    burbon (just a tad)
    orange juice/bit of zest.

    Melt the butter, add brown sugar, stir till gooey, add dash of burbon and other juice, add cornflakes (about a cup?) add the chopped pecans (about a cup?), stir till well-coated.

    About 10 minutes before casserole done, top with the topping and continue cooking.

    Yumminess defined.

    And you can do the casserole the day before and put in fridge till TDay.

    Right: got the other recipes and want that sausage one from Lynn.

  9. Kathy, I want the Bing Cherry Salad recipe! Sounds very good. I would like to add it to my list.

    Christine, thanks for the recipe. I love sweet potatoes so this should be very good.

    Here is one recipe that is quick and easy but you have to make it the night before. My husband always wants it instead of dessert.

    Watergate Salad

    A package of pistachio pudding
    A cup of marshmallows
    One small can of crushed pineapple
    A small container of Cool Whip
    A half cup of pecans

    Mix all the ingredients together. (I like to let the Cool whip sit out a bit so it softens). Put it in the refrigerator overnight. Really sweet and very green.

  10. Love watergate salad! I always wondered why they called it Watergate Salad. Does anyone know?

  11. Christine - it was invented, I am told, at the infamous Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.

    Okay, here is Lynn's Cajun Sausage Dressing recipe. I browbeat her into e-mailing it to me.

    Sausage Stuffing

    2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
    1 pound smoked sausage or polish kielbasa sliced into rounds (or Cajun andouille if you want to spice it up! I get Ragin’ Cajun brand)
    1 12-ounce package breakfast-style bulk sausage
    3 cups chopped onions
    2 cups chopped celery
    2 cups chopped red bell peppers
    1 cup chopped green onions
    2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
    1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
    1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
    12 ounces dry corn bread or regular bread stuffing mix (I’ve used both at different times; Mike seems to prefer the regular bread, so that’s what I use. I usually get Pepperidge Farms)

    Up to 1 1/2 cups (approx) canned low-salt chicken broth

    Melt butter in heavy large skillet or Dutch oven over med-high heat. Add all sausages and cook until brown and cooked through, breaking up bulk sausage with spoon or spatula, about 5 minutes. Add onions, celery and red bell peppers. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Stir in green onions, thyme, hot sauce, and sage. Transfer sausage mixture to large bowl. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Just reheat mixture when ready and proceed.) Stir stuffing mix into sausage mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

    You can bake the stuffing in a turkey, or separately. I usually like to do it separately. Preheat oven to 350, generously butter a baking dish that will fit all the stuffing. Add enough broth to moisten (that’s where the broth comes in, use as much as necessary--I’ve never used all of it, btw). Put stuffing in dish. Cover with a piece of buttered foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is crisp and golden, about 20 more minutes.

  12. I just hadn't checked back here yet to see so many people clamoring for it, LOL! But yes, as I told Cheryl, I get asked for it enough that it's already written out and saved in a Word document. ;)

  13. We don't stuff the bird. My mother-in-law usually makes dressing patties (yes, she makes the dressing mixture into patties and bakes them in the oven. I don't know her recipe). I think we are doing something different this year - turducken and that includes stuffing inside. Needless to say, we will be buying that prefab bird from Tim's Cajun Kitchen and heating it up. We had one years ago and it was pretty good.

  14. Positively yummy! I can't wait to try thse recipes. Here's my grandmother's recipe:

    Bing Cherry Salad.

    1 2 lb. can Bing cherries
    2 Cokes
    1 c. crushed pineapple
    1 c. chopped nuts (opt.)
    2 pkgs. cherry gelatin
    2 c. fruit juice (drained from cherries & pineapple)

    Drain juice from cherries and pineapple. 2 cups of juice is needed, add a little water to make this amount, if necessary. Bring juice to boiling points and pour over 2 pkgs. of cherry gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved. When cool, add 2 cans of coke, stir, and chill in refrigerator until partly congealed. Add drained cherries, pineapple and nuts and pour into mold (or container).

    When firm, unmold onto salad greens and serve with mayo or salad dressing.

    (Hint: 1#: I don't use mayo or salad dressing with it. 2#: I cut up cherries so they aren't so big. When they are big, it's hard for the gelatin to create a firmer mold.)

  15. Kathy--My mother used to make that. We called it Coca cola salad. I'm making. Maybe tonight.

  16. Wow, you gals have gone to town since I checked the blog earlier today, It all sounds yummy.
    My family being Southern from way back has cornbread dressing. We don't even usually have a turkey let alone stuffing. The only stuffing at our table is stuffing ourselves.

    We usually have the standard fare of green beans, english peas, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce etc. Dessert is where my family really shows off. There are only 8 of us but we each get to have our favorite desserts because that is how my granny did it.
    I have chess pie, my daddy has pecan pie, my sister a German chocolate cake, my mom needs Mississippi Mud cake, my neices share a love of banana pudding and my Uncle Junior has sweet potato pie with marshmellows on top. Wow, I am hungry now,

    I can't wait until Thanksgiving.

  17. My husband is a Georgia boy, born and bred. I had never heard of dressing (as anything other than salad dressing, at least) until our first Thanksgiving with his family when I kept trying to figure out where the stuffing was. Yes, I'm a yankee. I grew up on the cubed white bread oyster stuffing and I have to admit, it's not quite Thanksgiving for me without it. The recipes you all are sharing do sound delicious, though. Maybe I'll have to give the dressing another chance :)