I love Thanksgiving.
I love everything about Thanksgiving.
I love reflecting on all that we are thankful for. I love how the house smells. I love traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation; not just in my family, but all across our wonderful country.
But there is one tradition that I am fighting to keep in our home. I can’t bring myself to make stuffing. I just can’t do it. I wouldn’t even know where to start.
I don’t even know what stuffing is supposed to taste like.
In the South (yes, I still capitalize South out of respect and reverence tangled up with a touch of homesickness…), folks have cornbread dressing and here in the North stuffing reigns. I get that and I’m ok with it. Just don’t expect me to change everything…
Last year as we were sitting down to our traditional Thanksgiving meal (turkey and gravy, dressing, green beans, sweet potato casserole, etc.), my daughter poses the question, “Mama, why can’t we have stuffing like everyone else?” It dawned on me that we had entered a new period of parenthood, complicated even more by our Southern roots: our daughter thought we were weird.
And perhaps we are. And I’m pretty sure you do to, us being “from away” and all…
So for my Northern friends (that’s you…), I thought it would be fun to share with you what goes into cornbread dressing. Not ingredients necessarily, but I have to tell you the story of how I finally got the recipe for it. And I use the term recipe lightly.
I come from a long line of AMAZING cooks. On both sides of the family. Both of my grandmothers could put out a spread of food that would make your head spin, and make you wish you had worn your stretchy pants to dinner. My mother is just as spectacular and as a young woman I was
scared terrified of these women and their skills in the kitchen. All of that being said, I was never one to jump in and volunteer to help with big traditional meals. Everyone seemed to have “their” dish that they always brought. I was happy being the one that made tea or set the table. Until we moved away from Georgia.
Our first Thanksgiving away from our family, I began to panic a bit. I wasn’t the only one that loved all of the food and tradition in my family. My husband REALLY loved all of that food, too. And I wanted my daughter to grow up with some of the same memories and traditions, too. And it dawned on me that for the first time in my married adult life – I was going to have to cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner. All by myself. With no help whatsoever. EEEK.
***I am sorry this is taking so long. I just wanted to write about cornbread dressing. I’m getting there, I promise! ***
So I called my mom the weekend before Thanksgiving that year. I wasn’t too worried about the other dishes. I had prepared them before and had plenty of cookbooks to consult. But there was one dish that I didn’t have a recipe for. One dish that I was a bit picky about. Because it had to taste right. It had to taste like my mom’s cornbread dressing, or it just wouldn’t be right.
Surely she had the recipe written down, right? Maybe she could even e-mail it to me…
Well, turns out that there was a little secret that I hadn’t been told. A little piece of tradition that had been woven through the recipe cards and favorites that had been clipped from the tattered pages of the Southern Living magazine through the years. A sneaky little lesson that I never learned because I
ran stayed away from the kitchen when the traditional meals were fixed: there isn’t a recipe for dressing. At least not the kind I had grown up with.
This is how the conversation with my mom went:
“Mom, can you send me your recipe for dressing?”
She replied, “Well, do you have a pen and paper? There really isn’t a recipe that I can send you. This would be easier.”
Silence on my end… I’m freaking out inside. I need a recipe. It is that important to me. “Sure, go ahead!”
“OK, bake a pan of cornbread and let it cool. Then you crumble up the cornbread with some cheap white bread. Only use mushy white bread. The cheap stuff. Chop up some celery and onion, but not too much or it will taste funny. Then crumble that all together in a big bowl. Add chicken broth and mix it with your hands. It won’t do right if you don’t do it with your hands.”
I broke in, “How much chicken broth?? You didn’t say how much chicken broth!”
She continued, “Well, that depends. You just mix it up with your hands and add enough broth until it jiggles.”
“Jiggles???” I asked.
She laughed, “you’ll understand when you make it. It just jiggles. You’ll mix that up the night before, add a little salt and pepper, cover it with plastic wrap in the bowl, and put two eggs on top so you don’t forget to add those in the morning when you bake the dressing. I learned that trick from Grammy (her mom).”
To say I was terrified doesn’t even cover it. I wanted our first holiday meal away from family to be special. I wanted it to feel like we were home. I was so homesick, I wanted our meal to be so darn good that we all felt like we were home. And I could tell that by the way my sweet mother gave me the recipe, she wanted me to feel that way, too.
And it did. It was delicious. And each time I make it and take that first bite, I am home.
So you, my Northern friends, may have your stuffing. But we’ll be the weird ones, according to my daughter, as we sit around the table with our traditional Southern Thanksgiving Meal. And I am completely OK with that because more than anything I am thankful for a sense of place and for my family… both near and far.
I want to hear from you… what are your Thanksgiving traditions? Chime on the Graceful Mess Facebook page. Click here.