Turkey by Birth, Dressing
by the Grace of God
My six year old's suggested Thanksgiving Menu. To the far left are colon marks, behind which are the names of the family members whose personal preferences he lists as follows:
|For himself:||Cooclit Pie, Cooclit Milk, Moore Cooclit Things|
|For his little brother:||Botll of Milk (editor's note: I don't want to talk about it)|
|Mom:||Trcey with Stofing|
|For little brother:||Sanwich and Chips|
|For little brother:||Rice Kirspies|
I don't know where everyone else was during his survey. My response was borne of wistful thinking. Turkey with a savory bread stuffing, as accompanied the roasted birds of my northeastern youth, is considered blasphemous, if not out-and-out traitorous, here in the South. Cornbread dressing, baked in a separate pan, is what the good lord intended for fowl. It says so in Leviticus. AND Southern Living magazine. Ask Belinda, if you don't believe me.
Every southern family has its own heirloom recipe for dressing. My husband's came down his maternal line, and it is unique from any other I'd ever heard of, until today, when Laurie and I were comparing notes and realized we are closely related by dressings. Which is awesome, because ever since I dined and wined with the sk-rt girls in Chicago this summer, I've had a secret fantasy in which we are all sister-wives.
Laurie and her people are in North Carolina. I recently read that human migration can be tracked by DNA mutation. The farther and longer a particular tribe travels, the more mutations are added to the original code. I think this could just as easily be applied to cornbread dressing. We don't know for sure when or why Patrick's kin started heading westward from the Virginias & Carolinas. But now we know that somewhere along the way somebody added eggs. Call it manifest destiny.
In recent years, Patrick has taken it upon himself to carry tradition forward. He got started yesterday evening. My contribution was to make broth and bake up a batch of cornbread in the cast iron skillet I took from my mother-in-law's kitchen after she died. She was a wonderful woman, a true steel magnolia. My children never knew her, but to their cousins and older brother, she was "Honey". And so it says on her headstone.
With my pies out of the oven, and my part in the dressing-making done, I stepped aside and left him to it. This year, he decided to bring our eight-year-old in on the action. I heard him reading aloud to our son the steps written in his mother's lovely hand, telling stories about Thanksgivings past, and then explaining the difference between cornbread dressing and bread stuffing. True religion.
"You were born in the South, son. Don't ever forget that." He said it loud enough to be sure I could hear, and when I looked up, I caught the teasing gleam in his eyes, daring me to make something of it. But I also caught the pride and joy that was being kindled in the kitchen amid the egg cracking and cornbread crumbling. Patrick's parents died within several years of each other. Their home was sold. The extended family drifted into diaspora. Unless you count photographs, a couple of pieces of furniture, there's nothing tangible at all left to connect Patrick or our children to his parents, to their history.
Until we make cornbread dressing.
Here is Millie's recipe. Her own mother made it with turkey meat, which Laurie says is how it's done in her home, but Millie made it with chicken. If you are familiar with a version like this, I'd love to hear it.
(you need 2 iron skillets of cornbread already baked)*
Simmer one cut up or whole chicken in salted water for broth. Strain broth and skin and debone chicken. Add 1 stick butter to hot broth.
1 small onion
1 celery (1 cup, chopped)
Have broth hot. Break up hot corn bread, add about 4-6 cups broth and mix well in a large pot or bowl. add onion and celery mixture, and 1&1/2 tsp poultry seasoning - salt if needed by taste. Stir in 1 dozen raw eggs and deboned & skinned chicken. Toast up to 8 slices bread extra dry and break up into mixture. The mixture should be slightly soupy. If out of broth, boil water and add. Bake in two 9 X 13 dishes or pans at 400 for one to one and a half hours until set.
*this goes without saying for southerners, but others need to know that this means unsweetened cornbread. I make mine with stoneground cornmeal and it works beautifully in this recipe.