Cornbread vs the other stuff

I'm prejudice, I admit.  I can't get past the look of the  oyster, chestnut, fresh bread or and any other versions.  Cornbread dressing upstages the bird on my family's table every Turkey Day.  In my book, my mother-in-law's  so hits the spot, I don't need the bird with it. blogthanks  The dressing, particularly in the Deep South, is so popular that Sam Sifton, author of Thanksgiving (How To Cook It Well), includes two versions in his well acclaimed work (available on Kindle for $1.99).  Though, I do take exception to his listing the obvious first-place cornbread recipe second to Fresh Bread.

This is a dish, bias aside, that is steeped in my upbringing and culture. Lore and my grands and greats say recipes resembling the tasty side date back  to slavery when poor black people made the most of the innards of the turkey left as scraps after the real feast had been prepared in the big house. Corn was plentiful , and the other main ingredients (onions, chives and celery) were grown in slave quarter gardens from leftover seedlings gathered by field workers during veggie planting time. My Grandmother Susie Thomas, the quintessential Creole cook,  first told me about cornbread and rice (aka "dirty rice") dressings, the latter a staple side at many Louisiana holiday gatherings. My two families have honored these sides at Thanksgiving and other holiday times through generations.

That's my story.  While  we come from an assortment of cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and have many food stories behind our family beginnings, the one thing we share  in this country this week is the celebration and customs of Thanksgiving Day.  In the spirit of sharing and giving,  I invite erace your isms visitors and readers all week to post their food traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

20 thoughts on “Cornbread vs the other stuff

  1. Mike J.

    With regards to which dressing is the most delicious, my bias goes to the cornbread dressing. Mmmmm...good !! 🙂

    1. jeannashjohnson@gmail.com

      Thank you, Natalie, for sharing. This fruit salad recipe sounds amazing. I do a version of a Southern ambrosia. Lots of stuff in it. The family eats it the same way as you describe. It goes on and on throughout the holiday weekend and is especially favored as a late Thanksgiving night snack. I made it up more than 25 years ago based on a salad I had had in the East Coast at a friend's Thanksgiving gathering. The hostess wouldn't give out the recipe but swore it was not an ambrosia. Each year I worked on it, trying to make it like the original I'd had until one year it came out perfect. In the interim, there had been much resistance to the dish at our extended family gatherings. For years, it would sit only slightly dished out on the table. Nobody saw it as an acceptable Thanksgiving table side. I stubbornly offered it every year no matter where the holiday was spent. Now, with grown up grandkids, it's become the side that disappears long before the other leftovers.

  2. Les

    Growing up, I was never a turkey/dressing kind of guy. In my adult years, however, I've come around the traditional Thanksgiving fare a bit more. I have to admit, however, I'd rather have a big plate of enchiladas or tamales than Turkey! Having said that, I will say that I've grown quite fond of the broccoli and rice casserole that is a staple at my in-laws home each year at Thanksgiving -- and each member of the family has their own variation. And at Christmas, my mother-in-law mades beef tenderloin that is as anything I've every eaten -- and a "Yule Log" dessert that belongs in an art museum somewhere. On my side of the family, my dad's "sausage balls" were a holiday favorite -- which I've picked up on and we make them in our house -- the kids call them "worst case balls", which is their twist on my household German "Wurst und Kase Ballen".

  3. al

    i love making the cornbread stuffing. i rotate between that and the "regular" white bread stuffing recipe my grandfather handed down to me. I don't particularly care for oysters or rice or anything else. i like it plain. the other thing i must have on thanksgiving are collard greens made with turkey legs. cannot wait to start cooking. what a great post. makes me think about family traditions.

  4. Amelia

    My mom only started hosting Thanksgiving after we moved away! Before that, we'd usually go to some distant relative's house and eat a strange mix of Persian and traditional Thanksgiving food. But once we started to host Thanksgiving, Michael and I made her promise that we would have no rice or anything remotely Persian. We were adamant about having a traditional Thanksgiving menu. (Still are now, but mom really does love mixing things up and trying new recipes.) The only constant on our Thanksgiving menu is my mom's pumpkin cheesecake. It's definitely a family favorite!

  5. Vanessa Nichols-Holmes

    Conrnbread, hogmaws and chitterlings. The best thing in addition to the turkey and other stuff.

  6. Caffin

    Of course, Gumbo was a staple in our household on any day but especially enjoyed around the holidays. However, one of my favorite dishes on special occasions was Mirliton. It was so plentiful in Louisiana. The vegetable grew on a vine and you could go to select neighbors and collect enough for a meal. My family cooked it i with onions, green pepper, green onions, butter, and shrimp, or sausage, or ground beef. Then, we placed it in a casserole dish with breadcrumbs, sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese, and baked it in the oven. Sometimes, they stuffed the Mirliton with the same ingredients. I have found it in the grocery store in the DC area under the name chayote. If you have not had it, I highly recommend it. You can find recipes on the web. Interestingly, I learned that the crop is in short supply since Hurricane Katrina.

  7. Sandra

    My mother made Thanksgiving dressing using saved (left-over) loaves of sourdough and Italian-style bread. I cubed the bread and chopped the celery. I still like chopping celery. I use sourdough and focaccia.. I knead the herbs into the focaccia dough. I enjoy the rhythm of bread making. It's one of the few things that cannot be rushed.

    I came late to the cornbread dressing fan club…but now completely embrace it.However, sometimes that straight-from-the-oven skillet of cornbread is too irresistible and I have to bake another one so I have enough for the dressing.

    I love dirty rice but never thought of it as a T-Day staple, until now.

    On another holiday note: We have salmon patties for our Chanukah dinner. They can be prepped in advance and if we have guests I don't have to worry about the 'dairy' that's also being served. This year with Chanukah and Thanksgiving both vying for my attention the kitchen is in delightful disarray. I wouldn't have it any other way!

  8. Mary Brzezinski

    We would have roast chicken instead of turkey since they were handy and one only had to go down to the chicken coop with an axe and pick one out. We'd also had the typical Thanksgiving dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberries. There was always a head of cabbage in the cellar for cole slaw. For dessert we would have pumpkin pie and apple pie. One time mom made a pumpkin pie and set it out on the back porch with a dish towel over it and our cat walked across the pie and left its foot prints! That's what whipped cream is for! ha

    1. jeannashjohnson@gmail.com

      Hearing about the chicken, Mary B, reminds me that my mother would sometimes replace the turkey with fresh duck, or prepare it in addition to the turkey. In fact the duck is my most vivid memory because it was tastier. Always thought it was the coolest thing to go back to school after the break and brag about our Thanksgiving duck and have my classmates look at me like I was a freak!

  9. Diana Farrar

    Yes, the bird and the dressing are pivotal factors in any Thanksgiving feast, but it's the GRAVY that separates those who think they are now their mama from those who really are! Smooth with no lumps and just the right shade or carmel color make for just the right kind of good!

  10. Mac

    I make a huge pot of gumbo same way my Mom and two grandmothers did. Nothin says thanksgiving in the bayou state like full-on gumbo.

  11. ellen

    As i write this, the stock for the seafood/sausage gumbo is already simmering. i'm in new orleans to cook dinner for a friend who's wife died a year or so ago. i loved her and this is the first time he's opted to entertain. i was honored that he asked me to help. so we're having a traditional low-cal, low-fat, who-dat meal consisting of seafood and sausage gumbo; green salad, turkey, oyster dressing, sweet potatoes with a butter/brown sugar/orange/sauce; mashed potatoes; brussels sprouts oven-roasted in duck fat; mashed potatoes; buttered peas and mushrooms; giblet gravy; lemon meringue pie and ginger pumpkin pie. oh wait: i forgot: my daughter's internationally famous orzo mac'n'cheese (asiago, parmesan, marscapone, havarti) made with heavy cream and black truffle oil.

    as we like to say: too much is never enough.

    digitalis will be on the after-dinner mint tray.

  12. JNJ

    Thankful to all my readers and their delightful exchanges of food and culture and family! Happy feasting to all!!

  13. Daniel

    It's no contest. Cornbread dressing and gravy wins hands-down! My mother's is THE best! I am thankful that the person to whom I am related to by marriage cracked the code and makes a wicked cornbread dressing that rivals MaDear's!!

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