Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grandmother's Cornbread Dressing: Part Legend, Part Process, and Part Modern Counterpart

AAahhh.... Those of you not from the South have probably had few experiences, if any, with real Southern cornbread dressing. That "stuff" you may have gotten in a cafeteria or at Cracker Barrel is moderately similar in flavor but usually gloppy--sort of stiff and sticky.

Real Southern cornbread dressing is simply a perfect marriage of leftover biscuits and cornbread, leftover chicken or turkey stock, and a few veggies. Simple, eh? Like most old-fashioned favorites, this recipe is much harder to make if you don't already have cornbread and biscuits lying around. The secret? Make them ahead of time and freeze them in the amount specified below (and, you should make Southern cornbread and short biscuits). When you want to make the dressing, half the work will be done! (You can also freeze homemade chicken or turkey stock if you're in the habit of making that.)

As with many old family favorites, it was hard to pin down an actual "recipe" for this. If you've had dressing before and/or have made it before, the version my grandmother gave me will suffice. If you're still in the dark, see below for a more modern, more specific, but very similar version. Carrie and I are going to work on getting some pictures up of the texture, in progress, so you can see what your goal is.

Handed-Down Version (no doubt, girls used to spend more time at the stove with their mothers and this version would have been sufficient)

Mix crumbled cornbread and biscuits together. Cook 1 onion, 2-3 stalks celery, and some parsley until soft. Dump into cornbread/biscuit mixture. Add liquid/stock until you have a moist dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste (and poultry seasoning if desired). Bake.

Simple, eh?

For us more modern folks who don't make dressing on a regular basis and/or have always eaten it but never actually made it, here is a more prescriptive--and very similar--recipe from an old family favorite cookbook: The Chattanooga Cookbook. The term "modern" is a bit of a misnomer; the cookbook was published in 1970 and is out of print. I've changed the cookbook recipe a touch to reflect how my family makes dressing.

Dressing for Chicken or Turkey

  • 5 cups crumbled cornbread
  • 1 cup crumbled biscuits (about 4 large biscuits)
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped (1-2 stalks)
  • ~1/4 bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten (if doubling, just use 3, not 4)
  • chicken or turkey stock (roughly half a can)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • poultry seasoning to taste (my mom uses ~ 1/2 t. per recipe; I use ~ 1 t. per recipe)

  1. If your cornbread was not cooked with/in bacon grease, then saute your veggies in bacon grease until they are quite soft. If your cornbread was cooked with the magic ingredient, then boil your veggies and parsley until quite soft and the liquid in which they were cooked is roughly the same height as your veggies. (I know, it's still a bit vague...). Crumble your cornbread and biscuits (should look like above photo).
  2. Mix veggies (drained, if boiled, and water reserved) with crumbled cornbread and biscuits. Add some seasonings. Add some cooking water from veggies and some stock to make a moist mixture (my mom says about half a can will do the trick). You want it wet but not soupy; it will dry out some as it cooks. This is sort of a "you get better at it the more you practice" kind of thing. (You can see from the picture that it will be fairly "wet" looking.)
  3. Put in greased casserole dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes; it will look noticeably drier with a nice slightly brown "crust" on the top.
Serves 6-8; can easily be doubled

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