What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food? Mine is a tie between my mother’s apple salad and dressing (which some people refer to as stuffing).
In preparation for the holiday, I found her dressing recipe tonight and smiled at the memories of a special day eleven years ago. “The Story of Mema’s Dressing Recipe” and the actual steps are below, along with a suggestion for giving thanks.
The Story of Mema’s Dressing Recipe
My daughter and I visited my parents’ country home to discover the secret of my mom’s Thanksgiving dressing.
The bright blue sky seemed to smile on our venture as we drove down the long, gravel driveway. Fall crispness filled the air, and the lake mirrored the autumn colors of the leaves.
As soon as we entered the kitchen, my mom offered homemade oatmeal cookies and pointed to a pot of chili on the stove that would be our lunch. Then she put us to work chopping celery and onions.
Mema, as she was known to her grandchildren, offered a caveat, “I never know how my dressing will turn out, but we’ll do our best.” Remembering perfect dressing for decades, I proceeded to help.
Recipients of this recipe cannot imagine what an accomplishment it is to have this list of ingredients captured on paper. For about seven years I offered to help prepare the dressing, and each year the conversation remained the same.
“Mama, could we make the dressing this weekend?”
“Well, it’s already in the freezer. I know you’re busy, and I was just in the mood to make it. It was just a good day to make dressing.”
It was hard to get ahead of Mema, however, in 2008 she waited for us.
Mema’s Thanksgiving Dressing
- Save bread ahead of time and freeze. (4 dinner rolls, 8 slices of bread, 8 buns) Mema said we didn’t need to count as long as we had about 6 cups of bread chunks, but my daughter and I recorded the exact number to ensure we met family standards.
- Bake cornbread the day ahead or “You’ll be on your feet for too long.”
- Thaw bread when ready to prepare dressing. Break into small chunks. Crumble 3/4 of the cornbread and combine with bread chunks in a mixing bowl. Save the remaining cornbread in case it’s needed later. Mema used the top of a plastic cake keeper for mixing.
- Sauté 1½ cups of diced celery and 1½ cups of diced onion in 1 stick of butter. “Do not drain the butter. It adds flavor.” My mom added more celery than she preferred because Daddy liked it that way. She recalled the first time she accompanied him to his parents’ home for Thanksgiving. She would politely eat my grandmother’s dressing and hide the oyster bits she couldn’t make herself swallow. Mamie, my grandmother, also made cranberry sauce with whole cranberries and pecans, but we grew up with Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, sliced and served in a rectangular crystal dish. When Mama became a grandmother, she made her own with cranberries and pecans. Is that a rite of passage for grandmothers? (If so, I’m way behind.)
- To the bread mixture, add the following:
- 1½ teaspoon of Poultry Seasoning
- ½ teaspoon of Sweet Basil
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
6. Toss the bread mixture lightly.
7. Add the following:
- two beaten eggs
- about a quart of fat-free chicken broth (“Sweet Sue’s is the best.”)
- all the butter, celery, and onion
8. Stir together, but “not so much the dressing will become packed.” Ensure the mixture is slightly “soupy”.
We watched carefully as this step requires the judgment of a seasoned cook. Mema added extra chicken broth or cornbread as needed for the right consistency. It was just barely to the “soupy” stage when she finished—maybe the consistency of cooked grits?
9. Divide dressing into 2 large disposable aluminum pans and freeze. Seal with plastic wrap and double layers of foil.
10. Thaw dressing in the refrigerator the day before you plan to serve it.
11. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes depending on the pan size, and watch carefully.
12. Cut into squares; serve with giblet gravy. Enjoy!
P. S. Mema warned, due to a near-fiasco one year, that the disposable aluminum pan should be placed in a long Pyrex baking dish. To this day, only Mema and I know what happened with the pan of dressing that year! OOPS! I’ll never tell. Mema said not to. Hint: She told me she had mopped the floor that morning and “Shhhhh!”
Fond memories. As we count the blessings of God this year, let’s thank Him for the people who love us and for loved ones in Heaven who prayed for us and taught us to give our lives to Christ and live for Him as my mom did. Why not make your list now?
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;Psalm 95:2
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.