Monday, November 27, 2006

Make Mine Cornbread

I have run out of postable paintings and old stories, which came in handy while I was away for Thanksgiving. But now that I am easing back into a weekday routine, I'm left with having to write about something new. The problem is, I don't want to write about something new. I want to write about something old, something with tradition and roots and with strings attached.

My husband, daughters, and I spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws in Illinois every year. It's a tradition. College students travel hundreds of miles for this event even if their parents can't make it (the large family is scattered all over the country and even into Brazil). This year we had twenty-four people for dinner and another day of just being together.

One of the few old family traditions is Short Bread Squares, simple layers of shortbread topped with melted chocolate. Beyond that, there aren't many dishes or activities the family continues through the generations. This is not a sentimental bunch. But it seems they have begun a new tradition by serving onion stuffing with the turkey for Thanksgiving. It's a rich mix of stuffing, seasonings and sauteed onions. It's very good when it's baked thoroughly, as it was this year, but it isn't cornbread.

My mother cooks by eye, like some musicians play by ear. Somewhere in her box of finger-smudged recipe cards are general directions for making cornbread dressing (dressing is the southern term for stuffing). But she doesn't need the card. She knows how to make cornbread, and she knows how much chopped celery and onion to add, how much sage to pinch, how much broth will give it the perfect consistency. And she knows how long to bake it so the texture had just the right amount of crumble. There is nothing like a big spoonful of cornbread dressing drizzled with giblet gravy on the plate next to the fried corn, roast turkey, and cranberries.

After the meal, when we all pitch in to clean up the kitchen, someone carefully wraps the leftover dressing and gives it a special spot in the refrigerator. Then, in the morning, we pull it out, every year acting surprised to see leftovers, and we scoop out a hunk for breakfast. It's best cold and eaten with your hands.

My mother will make cornbread dressing for Christmas when we visit her in Georgia, which is also a tradition, so I won't completely miss out on my childhood memory and the roots it represents.

I gladly accept the new tradition of onion stuffing for Thanksgiving. But if anyone were to ask my preference, I'd have to answer, "please make mine cornbread."


dive said...

Ooooh … Cold stuffing for breakfast. That sounds so yummy!

Sassy Sundry said...

Corn bread stuffing. I've heard of it but never had it. (I make vegetarian versions of such things.) Sounds yummy.

Dan Martins said...

As a member of the family who has not ever been at one of these Thanksgiving gatherings (even though my children have been among the college students you referred to, Robyn), I am envious and wistful to read about it. And you're undoubtedly right about the family not being overly sentimental! But if I'm not mistaken, I think the onion dressing you all enjoyed, and that you name as a burgeoning tradition, is actually an import from another family--that is, Brenda's (my wife)--where it is most assuredly a long-established tradition, and was enjoyed by that extended clan this year by about the same numbers of people gathered in the Bay Area. So just as people get "shared" from one family to another by marriage, so can recipes! (BTW, I'm very partial to cornbread, and I'm sure your family's version of cornbread dressing is yummy.)

Robyn said...

Dan, the onion stuffing did migrate over from Brenda's family. I remember having it first years ago when you were all living in WI and our kids were little.

I hosted Thanksgiving several years ago and served cornbread stuffing (not my mother's), and it didn't go over so well.