We Don’t Talk About Cornbread Dressing, Now Please Pass the Gravy

by on March 7th, 2015
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Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in my family include a myriad of delicious recipes, some of which have been lovingly perfected by the women who’ve made them for many years. My holiday dinners typically are a mix of my blended family’s treasured recipes. I include a favorite recipe from my ex-husband’s mother because my grown daughter loves it. I make my late mother’s beloved potato salad recipe at Christmas because my sister loves it. She in turn bakes an elaborate cake that was our mother’s recipe, and so on.

But one recipe that I don’t make is the Southern-style cornbread dressing. Not because I don’t like it — quite the contrary. It is one of the most delicious of all the side dishes. My mother-in-law’s cornbread dressing is out-of-this-world and my mother made a darn delicious cornbread dressing.

It’s a fairly simple recipe and, of course, starts with a pan of homemade cornbread. My dear mother-in-law says it’s easy to make. You know, crumbled cornbread, onion, celery, seasonings and turkey or chicken stock. Mix it just a little bit, not too much. Bake it and viola!

Now, I make a great homemade cornbread. As a matter of fact, I’m so good at it that I don’t even need a recipe! That’s right, I throw it all together and bake it in a cast iron skillet. It turns out delicious every time. As a matter of fact, I’ll continue to toot my own horn. I’m a pretty decent cook and can bake almost anything. Really, I actually like to cook and frequently bake homemade sweets and treats for my family. Before I retired from my office job, my co-workers always looked forward to the tin of made-from-scratch cookies, candies and sweet breads I made as Christmas gifts every year.

When my husband and I first moved into our house years ago, hosting Thanksgiving for the family was on our priority list. His mother had been doing it for so long but she was getting older and looked forward to the break. We were having several family members stop by for the dinner.

I cooked and baked for days. I made my moist-on-the-inside, crispy crust cornbread the day before. That would be one less thing to do Thanksgiving day. When the time arrived to assemble the ingredients for the cornbread dressing, I taste tested and added just a pinch more sage. Did I mention earlier that sage is what makes Southern cornbread dressing delectable?

For the life of me, I couldn’t seem to get the ratio of bread and broth just right. I tried to remember my mother’s technique, but that was so long ago. I remember both my mother and mother-in-law telling me that adding enough broth was crucial, the dressing shouldn’t be too dry as it bakes. Alright, got it. I added more broth, but I added too much. So then I had to make more cornbread.

It looked just about right. I put it in the oven to bake, but I watched and worried over that dressing. It didn’t look like my mother-in-law’s dressing. I took it out of the oven, I added a touch more broth, with the words resounding in my ears “don’t let the dressing get too dry.”

Well, maybe I over-mixed the dressing that day. I’m not sure what happened. OK, I’m no dummy: I knew the dressing looked nothing like my mother-in-law’s famous cornbread dressing when I put it on the buffet table that day. Did I tell you how much my husband and I both love his mother’s dressing? It’s to-die-for delicious! It’s just the right combination of fluffy cornbread and seasonings, with chunks of celery and onion that are just large enough to add perfect texture.

I watched in horror as family members scooped out (or tried to scoop out) the concoction that looked somewhere between day-old oatmeal and concrete just before hardening onto their Thanksgiving plates. My family quickly began discussing how wonderful the sweet potatoes looked and the perfectly roasted turkey. “Is that homemade cranberry relish?”

When Thanksgiving rolled around the following year, my mother-in-law cheerfully offered to bring cornbread dressing and I eagerly accepted her offer. No, we don’t talk about cornbread dressing in my family. Now, please pass the gravy.

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