Thanksgiving Ingredients Mixed with Memories

Jeannie Waters

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

  1. 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.
  2. Bake cornbread the day ahead or “You’ll be on your feet for too long.”  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psalm 95:2

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Who’s on your gratitude list?

Please feel free to share this post!

18 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Ingredients Mixed with Memories

  1. What a wonderful and heartwarming post Ms. Jeannie. I think my favorite Thanksgiving memory is the first Thanksgiving with my adopted family. I had never before experienced such love as I did that day. And that is exactly what I think the secret ingredient you left out from “Mema’s” recipe is… LOVE. By the way, thanks for showing me the correct spelling. I’ve been spelling it memaw or mamaw from many years. Some words we just don’t find in dictionaries. 🙂 God’s blessings ma’am; and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      J. D., thank you for sharing your favorite memory. How special that day must have been! And yes, the most important ingredient is love in our interactions with others. I don’t think there’s a correct spelling for those cherished grandmother names. It’s often spelled as you indicated. As long as the grandmother is happy with the name, all is well. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  2. Oh Jeannie,
    Your words brought back sweet memories of my Grandmother’s Thanksgiving feast. All the laughter around the table and comments of “ This is so delicious.” And of course her homemade yeast rolls. Everyone would skimp on dessert just for another roll.

    Thanks for reminding me of my rich family heritage & the bounty of blessings to have had such an amazing Grandmother.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Karen, I’m thankful the post brought sweet memories to mind. I would skip dessert for homemade yeast rolls, too. Your comment reminds us that we, too, can make memories and allow God to bless others through our lives. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Jeannie, I love your heart, your memories, and this recipe! It’s now going to be part of our family’s Thanksgiving. Love you!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Jean, I’m thrilled that you want to share my memories with your family. That touches my heart, sweet friend.

  4. This is so sweet it makes me long for those days of Thanksgiving craziness.
    My most fun memory was the year the wall oven door in my very small kitchen decided to fall off!
    And that led to drippings on the floor of the oven to smoke and cause the alarm to go off! I can still see my cousin trying to get out of the way as I yelled, “Hot stuff! Hot stuff!”
    Thanks for taking me down that memory avenue,; I am chuckling even now! Love you.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      I’m chuckling with you, Lisa, as I imagine that scene. What a story! Isn’t it amazing how today’s fiascos turn into sweet memories with laughter? Nothing is wasted. No member of your family will forget that Thanksgiving! Love you back.

  5. Love LOVE this!! I could hear Mema’s voice as I read this!! Boy do I miss her!!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Oh, dear friend, I love that you loved her, too. She adored you and your family. I’ll never, ever forget the soft pink sheets you found and washed for her. Your many acts of kindness linger in my heart. Love you!

  6. Jeannie, this reminded me of my Mama, Gane, to her grandchildren! She could whip up a batch of dressing in no time. There is no recipe!! My sister and I can make it though. We watched her enough times to know “about” how to do it. Last year, as we were all fixing our plates on Thanksgiving, all I could think about was how proud my Mama would be to know we can master a Thanksgiving Dinner feast thanks to her wonderful example through the years! Lots of love went into her cooking and we cook with love today! Love is the magic ingredient to all things Thanksgiving…family time, friends, fun, and food!!! Thank you for reminding me of this! Love you! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      Wanda, I’m glad the post was a blessing to you and that you have so many fond memories. You’re right that love is the key ingredient. Enjoy the holiday with your family as we remember to count our blessings.

  7. Your post certainly brought back the memories of big family Thanksgivings with my family. My grandmother’s dressing was always the best. Sounds like she must have made it the same way you did. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Maybe one day I’ll attempt to make dressing. Now that my siblings are away enjoying their own family gatherings and my parents are in heaven, we often just give thanks over the Cracker Barrel special Thanksgiving dinner. The best part is that there are no days of planning and preparing and there are no dishes to wash. I’ll admit I miss the family conversations but we still have lots to be thankful for. Maybe one day I’ll prepare your dressing and cook a turkey. Miracles happen!

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      I always love hearing from you, Pam. Thanks for the important reminder to be thankful in all situations. By the way, instead of adding extra cornmeal, I should have typed cornbread!

  8. Jeannie, thanks for sharing Sadie’s recipe. I think I’ll try it for Christmas. I know it will be delicious! Someone else in our family is doing dressing this year. Enjoyed your post, as always.

    • Post Author Jeannie Waters

      You’re welcome, Evelyn, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Where I said she sometimes added extra cornmeal, I meant cornbread!

  9. Jimmie Annette Ballard

    Jeannie, this may be my favorite of all you have written to this point. I could picture you all in the kitchen. One of my favorite things to do is cook for my family. Such a blessing.

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