A’Tempting’ Tuesday: Cornbread Dressing and Memories

Cornbread Dressing

I started my love of cooking at a very young age. I remember making my mom lunch during the summers when she came home from work, probably at about the age of 11.  Back then, I’m told it was a lot of gravy and garlic.  Fortunately, things have improved.

Many of my recipes and favorite dishes were handed down from my Mother and grandmothers, many I’ve made up.  Quite honestly, most are prepared from memory.  This can be good and bad.  It’s quite convenient because I don’t have to keep up with a recipe for a lot of the things I cook often.   However, when someone asks how I’ve prepared something,

“a little of this, and a dash of that until it looks goods” is not a very good answer.

This happened to me recently when my aunt called and wanted a recipe for my mom’s Cornbread Dressing.  I make it like my mom did.  She made it like her mom did.  Basically, we take the ingredients, stir them together and taste until it’s right.  We bake until it looks good.  Really, that’s it.

While the ingredients remain the same every time, I have no recipe or measurements for said ingredients, only the memories of learning to prepare it with my mother and grandmother.  Even today, when reliving those days of my childhood when we lived next door to my grandmother, I can almost smell that dressing baking in the oven and begging to be covered in gravy made from the turkey drippings.  My grandparents, my mom, my sister and I, as well as my aunt and uncle spent many a Thanksgiving in that tiny house on Hickory Street in Marshall, Texas.  It’s funny how my aunt asking me for a recipe can bring back so many memories.

In the absence now of my mom and grandmother, I guess I am now the holder of the recipe.  I don’ t know whether to feel flattered or just old!  When my aunt wanted my mom’s recipe  I panicked a little.  I really couldn’t tell her to make some cornbread and throw a handful of a bunch of “stuff” in it and bake at 350 for a “little while.”

So, I put on my queen of everything hat and this is the recipe I came up with.

Keep in mind,  this is one of those “to taste” kind of recipes.  Many of the measurements are approximate and up to the taste of the cook.

Gram Gram’s and Mom’s Old Fashioned Cornbread Dressing

  • Cornbread (I sometimes make it from scratch, other times I use whatever mix is on sale. A sweeter cornbread is really nice in this recipe.  Either way, I make two batches.)
  • 2-4 cups chicken or turkey broth (I make fresh broth by boiling a chicken, adding salt and pepper, chopped celery and onion — 3/4-1 cup each.  I debone the chicken and use that at another time). 
  • 4 tablespoons rubbed sage (or to taste.  I tend to go a little heavier on the sage)
  • 3 to 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 or 3 pieces of dry toast made from your favorite bread, crumbled (I dry on low heat in the oven and prefer plain old white bread)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I really like to use celery salt for added flavor instead of regular salt)
  •  2 Green onions, chopped (optional)

Prepare the broth.  I boil the chicken, adding chopped onion and celery as it cooks.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Better seasoned your broth, means less work on the finished product.  I often make the broth a night or two ahead of time, putting away the deboned chicken for another use.  If you are from the south and prefer giblet gravy with your dressing, the giblets can be boiled and chopped at this time.

Bake the cornbread, whether it be from a mix or from scratch.  I generally prepare two batches of cornbread using a large cast iron skillet.  I do this a day or two ahead if I can too.  When ready to prepare the dressing, finely crumble the cornbread into a large baking pan or 13X9 casserole dish. There is no need to butter or spray the pan.

Dry the toast  right on the rack in the oven.  Crumble and add to the crumbled cornbread.

Pour about 2 cups broth into the cornbread/toast mixture and stir.  Add more as needed.  You don’t want it watery, but you don’t want it dry either.  In the end, you want a firm, wet mixture.  You shouldn’t be able to pour off any liquid.  Add the rubbed sage, pepper and salt or celery salt to taste at this point.   Like I said, I stir and taste until I think it tastes good.  Any leftover broth can be put aside to use when making your gravy.

Stir in the chopped boiled eggs and green onions, if you want them.  Some people add the egg raw (especially those who make a more traditional stuffing), but I really like them boiled.  The green onion is not necessary, but I think it adds a little more freshness and color to the dish.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until it starts to dry and brown on top.  It should be a little moist, but not wet.  I start checking it at about 45 minutes, but it almost always winds up cooking for about 1.25 to 1.5 hours.  You can serve straight from the baking pan, with your choice of gravy available for topping.  (Gravy is a must!)

Cook’s Notes and Tool Talk:

  • As I said, you can bake the cornbread from scratch or use a mix. It really depends on your preference, your time and what you have on hand. We really prefer a sweeter cornbread for dressing. Jiffy in a box is an excellent choice. However, my hubby is now diabetic so I’ve had to adjust what I use. I just add a couple tablespoons of Splenda to my cornbread batter (scratch or mix). I think baking the cornbread in a cast-iron skillet is a must. The brown, crunchy texture the cast iron gives to the cornbread is perfect in the dressing.  My favorite skillet is one from one of my grandmothers.  I don’t even know how old it is.
  •  I generally keep a can of chicken broth on hand in case I run out of my freshly prepared broth.  Any leftover broth I use to make the gravy.  As we generally fry our turkey, I usually need extra when it comes time for gravy as there is no turkey drippings when frying.  To make the gravy, brown 2 tablespoons of flour in 2 tablespoons butter (not margarine) over medium heat until a light brown. It’s a good idea to stir constantly.  Add broth, about a cup at a time, stirring over medium heat until you reached your desired consistency.  If gravy is too thick, add more liquid.  If it’s too thin, you can thicken with a tiny bit of cornstarch dissolved in cold water and stirred into the gravy. Add salt and pepper if needed.
  • If you roasted your bird, you can thicken your drippings right in the roasting pan using the water/corn flour mixture.  Flour dissolved in cold water will also work.  Just make sure you dissolve the flour in the water before adding it to you hot drippings so you don’t have lumps.

I hope you enjoy.  I know this recipe is still a little vague.  However, short of burning it, you really can’t mess this up.  Writing this recipe down has actually started me on yet another Cooking, Crafting and Chaos journey.  My daughter may some day want some of these recipes.  My niece has asked me for a few.  So, I’m making a conscious effort to record how I prepare many of my older recipes.  Next, I think I need to record Banana Pudding, one of my daughter’s (and best friend’s) favs!  But first ….

NEXT TIME:  Crock Pot Candy

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