My parents were both good cooks. In the division of labor, my father always made the dressing to go with turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The first Thanksgiving I was married, living 3000 miles from home, I asked for the direction. Not the recipe, the directions. They came handwritten by Daddy on three 5 by 7 index cards, front and back. Not to be outdone, Mother added her two cents worth in the margins. Thirty-seven years later, I'm still trying to do it as well as he did. —Nora
1 1/2 cups
corn meal, preferably white, fine ground
egg, lightly beaten
Canola oil or solid shortening
slices of stale sandwich bread
or more buttermilk.
The Things that Make It Dressing
finely diced carrot
finely diced celery
Substitute or add leeks for onion
Substitute or add fennel for celery
toasted pecans, chopped
Slivers of country ham or crumbled cooked sausage or crumbled cooked bacon, to taste (optional)
Drained oysters (optional)
Chicken or vegetable stock
In This Recipe
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the oil or shortening in a 9 inch cast iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven while it heats, until the fat is hot.
Combine the dry ingredients.
Stir in the egg and enough buttermilk to make, as Daddy described it, a batter "the consistency of thick cream."
Take the skillet out of the oven. Pour the hot fat into the batter and stir. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and return it to the oven.
Bake until the top of the bread is browing, it pulls away from the sides of the pan a little, and the bread tests done. Turn the bread out onto a rack to cool.
Saute the vegetables you want, minimally onion, carrot and celery.
Toast pecans in a dry skillet over low heat until they release their scent. Remove from the heat and chop.
Crumble the cornbread and the stale bread slices into a mixing bowl. Add the sauteed vegetable, the pecans, and anything else you want. Daddy often made two pans, one for vegetarians and oyster-haters and one for the rest of us. My favorite: country ham and oysters.
Season with salt, pepper, and crumbled dried sage.
Add stock to make a moist but not wet mixture. At this point, Daddy would let the mixture sit for an hour or more. Then he would taste it again for seasoning. You could add other herbs to your own taste.
If the breads have absorbed a lot of the liquid, you can add more stock. Again, it should be moist but not wet.
Turn the mixture into an oiled baking dish. The shape isn't important. You want the dressing to be 2 to 3 inches deep, spread evenly in the pan.
The dressing bakes well at 350 to 375, or even 400 degrees. Beware of the higher temperature, which could dry it out. Bake until the top browns.
Serve warm or at room temperature. You can offer gravy with it, but my goal is to have dressing that is moist enough not to need gravy.