November 6, 2013 9:39:57 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Remembering the Thanksgivings of my childhood conjures warm memories. I can clearly see gleaming china, sparkling crystal, the turkey-shaped gravy bowl and a large cornucopia my mother often used as a centerpiece. It overflowed with artificial apples, oranges and grapes that, to a kid, looked good enough to eat. In fact, I daresay there were some tiny teeth marks on the underside of a couple.
As years passed, I came to realize the most wonderful part of Thanksgiving was the gathering, the convergence of extended family and guests, the laughter, the lingering after the meal. There was a lot of connecting going on around that big dining table. And a lot of work that went on beforehand to get the exalted bird and all the trimmings ready for the feast.
Without fail, my sister-in-law's mother, Mary Fleming (lovingly called Mimi), always brought the oyster dressing. (Yes, dressing, not stuffing; we're below the Mason-Dixon line, after all.) The adults raved about it. The kid that left toothy imprints in the centerpiece, however, was convinced oysters were ucky and always opted for the good ole "regular" dressing.
Now all grown up, I can appreciate that the culinary world boasts a bounty of dressing recipes. Some adventurous cooks enjoy trying a new one every November, while others see no reason to mess with success.
Kathy Howell of Columbus likes the family recipe handed down from her grandmother to her mother, and then to her. "It's an old-fashioned dressing that we just love because it's moist, made with eggs, cream of mushroom soup, onions, celery ..." began the avid cook. "My mother always said the whole key is to boil your hen and use that broth to mix with your dressing."
Another Columbus cook, Toni Caldwell, likes to experiment.
"I try a different dressing recipe almost every year," she said. "I think one of my favorites is the one in the Grand Heritage cookbook." "Grand Heritage: A Culinary Legacy of Columbus, Mississippi" was compiled by Heritage Academy and first published in 2002 by Wimmer Cookbooks. Another of Caldwell's top picks comes from "Somebody Stole the Cornbread from My Dressing: A Hilarious Comparison Between the North and South Through Recipes and Recollections," by Elizabeth Gourlay Heiskell and Susanne Young Reed (Overmountain Press, 2010).
There is no shortage of dressings to try, both traditional and, well, bold. The Internet yields recipes that call for some imagination, with ingredients ranging from mofongo (a Puerto Rican specialty of fried green plaintains), sofrito and blue cheese to popcorn, tortilla chips, alligator and even White Castle sliders.
Recipes in today's food section avoid the extremes. But we do offer a few options you may want to try out before the big day later this month, including Howell's family recipe.
So, welcome to November, a time of umber, reds and golds, of cookbooks, planning and shopping lists. Most of all, a time of thankfulness.
HOWELL FAMILY DRESSING
For the cornbread:
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white cornmeal
2 large fresh eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon butter, melted
For the dressing:
1 small hen, to be boiled and shredded
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup celery
1/2 cup bell pepper (red or green)
2 pieces of toasted bread, shredded
1 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
2 cups chicken broth from hen (more may be used if too dry looking)
1 can cream of chicken soup (Campbell's preferred)
2 large eggs slightly beaten
4 large hard-boiled eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
(Source: Kathy Howell)
1 loaf day-old rustic bread, dark, hard crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for baking dish
1 1/2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
2 small leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced into half-moons, and rinsed well (about 3 cups)
3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 large fennel bulb, chopped (about 2 cups)
12-14 ounces firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears (about 3), chopped (about 3 cups)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 cups turkey stock
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
OYSTER AND CRACKER DRESSING
2 sleeves saltine crackers (about 66)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 pints shucked fresh oysters in their liquor, drained and 1/4 cup liquor reserved
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Lemon wedges, for serving
Strategies to stuff by
When preparing your poultry with dressing, keep these tips in mind:
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.