The book I’m working on right now takes place in November, and I plan on ending it at Thanksgiving time. Therefore, I’ve been pondering my family’s traditional Thanksgiving fare. Last night, friends and I got into a discussion of the dishes that each of us cannot live without on the holiday.
You know those dishes, Dear Reader. It just isn’t Thanksgiving without them. Our little group discovered that we fell into two dressing categories - cornbread dressing, and the wrong kind - I mean - yeast bread dressing. Of course, being from the South, I was raised on cornbread dressing with the turkey. This is not to say that I don’t love dressing made with stale bread. I do. But in our little world, bread dressing goes with pork chops.
When I was very young, we always had Thanksgiving at my father’s mother’s house in Boynton. Grandma Casey (she who owned a cafe for 50 years) was an instinctive cook. She was a food artist, and understood the craft, art, and science of cooking and flavoring, and how foods went together. She made a slightly different cornbread stuffing every year. One year she would use chestnuts, and one year oysters, the next year something else. She always cooked the dressing in a huge roasting pan with the bird, which I think is now verboten by the Food Safety Police. She must have began cooking the turkey the week before Thanksgiving, because we never had to carve the bird. By the time it came out of the oven, the meat had fallen off the bone.
Grandma and her children all liked the turkey innards. My dad and aunt and Grandma always slathered everything with giblet gravy, ate fried livers and gizzards, nibbled on boiled necks. The grandchildren (all but one cousin, who got the gene) and in-laws, not so much.
She liked mince meat pies - the old kind, with meat in them. My aunt always brought her jello salad, which consisted of wall-to-wall diced apples and pecan halves, and just enough red jello to hold it all together. And of course, there was my mother’s pumpkin pie. Which, according to my cousin, was nothing more than a platform for holding whipped cream.
For the past 35 years, Don and I haven’t eaten the turkey, but we still have to have our cornbread dressing - a pan of crumbled cornbread, chopped celery and onion, thyme and sage, lots of veggie broth, baked in the oven. To make it juicy and delectable, slice and boil a couple of small crookneck squash and mix it in. If you’re not a vegan, mix in some melted butter. How about a cup of nuts? I’ve used pecans, walnuts, and filberts.
And now, please excuse me. I’m suddenly ravenous.
Next week : Some really easy and delicious dishes to take to that TG potluck.