Monday, November 25, 2013


Are you bustling around preparing for Thanksgiving? For my family, this weekend launches the holidays as well as reminds us of all we have for which we’re thankful. But let me tell you about the first Thanksgiving. No, not the Pilgrims, but the first my husband and I celebrated as a couple.

Hero and I were married in January. Before our wedding, each of us had spent every Thanksgiving with our parents. On this holiday, my inlaws were coming to visit. I had been briefly married before and my inlaws did not really approve of their eldest son marrying a divorcee—in spite of the fact that I had been friends with their daughter since we were ten. Anyway, I was a nervous wreck wondering how I was going to prepare a traditional dinner without any klutzy mishaps.

As luck would have it, my best friend (Brenda) had moved nearby and her inlaws also were going to visit for the holiday. We figured the turkey was manageable due to each bird having cooking instructions on the wrapper. The dressing, however, stumped us. Brenda and I each wrote our mom and asked how to prepare the traditional Southern/Southwestern cornbread dressing. Each of us received the same recipe.

Crumble a pan of cornbread and add light breadAdd chopped onions and celery and eggs, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and sage.  Add enough turkey broth until it looks right. Pour into a greased pan and cook until lightly brown on top.”

No amounts. No cooking time. No specifics. 

Arrrgggghhhh! Picture two young wives in panic.

For a seasoned cook, this probably would have been a recipe. For us, it made no sense. So, Brenda took a Betty Crocker Cook Book and I took Better Homes and Garden’s version. Taking our moms’ ingredients, we made our own recipe and compared notes, adjusted, and finalized our version of Cornbread Dressing. I have to say we came up with a winning recipe. My mom preferred my dressing to her own. Here is the result:

Cornbread Dressing
1 pan of cornbread
5 slices bread, dried and crumbled
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
1 stick margarine or butter
1 cups pan drippings from turkey
2 cups turkey broth (I use the wings, neck, gizzard, and liver)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons or more of sage
3 eggs

In saucepan of water, add the turkey neck, liver, gizzard, and wings. Cook on medium high for thirty minutes. Remove turkey parts and cool until they can be chopped. Reserve broth for dressing and gravy.
In small skillet, melt the stick of butter. Add celery, onion, and parsley. Sauté until onion becomes transparent. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, crumble cornbread and bread slices (or use Cuisinart). Add broth and drippings, sautéed mixture, and other ingredients. Add ¾ of the stewed meat (and reserve the other ¼ for the gravy). Taste dressing to adjust seasoning. Add more broth if dressing is too dry.

Pour into well buttered 3-quart casserole or pan. Cook at 325 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes. Don’t overcook, as everything but the eggs have been cooked and you are just blending flavors and heating thoroughly.

Serve with baked turkey, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and other dishes.

This reminds me of a funny story. My mom was very, very sparing with spices. She saved her sage year after year and sometimes didn’t even bother to close the lid. By the second year, most of the taste had disappeared. Every time she prepared dressing, my dad would say, “Good, but it needs more sage.” One year, I bought a new, large can of sage and emptied about half the can into the dressing so my dad would enjoy the dish. I have to say that year's dressing brought tears to our eyes. Good thing we had gravy and cranberry sauce to cut the sage’s taste.

I hope your Thanksgiving plans include loved ones and a happy weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!


Unknown said...

Good job putting together this recipe, Caroline, and thanks for sharing it with the world. This is essentially the same way my family has made dressing/stuffing for a long, long time, and I remember the same panic when I tried to cook it myself for the first time. :-D The only thing I do differently these days is substitute oysters for the giblets. All of the giblets around here go into the gravy, because we always seem to go through enough gravy to float a battleship.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! :-)

Unknown said...

Sounds delicious, I never had to worry about cooking for my parents or in-laws, my parents ALWAYS cook Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family. But this year my step-son and family are coming for Thanksgiving, this will be the first time we've been together for Thanksgiving (we'll be married 20 yrs on Jan 1st) so I'm a little nervous. But my husband and I will do it together because he loves to cook. We cook Christmas dinner together too.

Happy Thanksgiving, Caroline

Caroline Clemmons said...

Dressing is my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. Your recipe sounds yummy! Thank you for sharing. Have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving!

Unknown said...

Caroline, this is basically the same as my Mom made every year. I love the dressing and will continue making it and passing it on to my daughter-in-law (only one child and he doesn't cook)and hopefully my granddaughter.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love dressing and yes, I use about 1/2 cup of fresh sage, and oysters. I put the giblets in the dressing and the neck meat in the gravy. Like KRA, I make about a gallon of gravy and it's never enough.

But this year, I don't know what I'm going to do since I don't eat grains. Might try making dressing with sausage, celery, and onions with garlic and traditional spices.