I wrote this story a few years back about Thanksgiving at the Miller house. I am reprinting to lay the groundwork for the recipe that follows. Daddy's dressing is as cherished by my daughters as it is by me, and I want them to be able to make it! It took me several tries to get it just right. It will never be as good as Daddy's, but it is close...this year I actually took the time to measure the ingredients, as I have always made it the same way he did--on the fly. It is a very rustic recipe, mixed and mushed together with your hands. While I don't make the cornbread from scratch like my mother did, this comes out as a fair representation of what he did. Good Lord, I love the stuff. Imagine the potatoes in this picture above is actually dressing.
Thanksgiving at the Miller's
My dad was a man’s man. He worked all week repairing tractors, combines, and irrigation motors. Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey would not fall under any of those job descriptions.
I came along late in their lives, (SURPRISE!!), so I can’t vouch for what happened earlier in his life, but this is my history thus: my dad was born in 1913, so he was from a different time. My mom was born in 1919. I remember them saying things like, “a child is to be seen and not heard”. It was the tradition in that period that the men ate in the “dining room” FIRST, then the women ate in the same room, then whatever left was fed to the children in the kitchen. (As crazy as that sounds, I, as one of those children, never wanted for too much, as my current robust health testifies.) I guess you could call it “food politics”. That’s when “the woman’s place was in the home”. With all this posturing, a “man " cooking was a bit—how should I say it--odd. Different. My dad did not care. He usually repeated this turkey-dressing feat at Christmas, but Thanksgiving was the priority. Outside of these yearly duties, breakfast was his only culinary expertise—in the mornings or sometimes for supper. Most folks around Hartley would be surprised, my dad was not the guy you would expect to fix a great Thanksgiving feast. He would fix your International irrigation engine, but not dinner. Every year he tried different things. He baked the bird in a paper bag, or he would open roast it, basting it hourly. It was his profound pleasure to create a moist turkey. But it was not his turkey I am here to talk about. It is the dressing.
Thanksgiving dressing is a VERY controversial subject. Trust me, after years in the beauty salon, I know. Most recipes are protected with some sort of vigilante attitude. Bread? Cornbread? Sage? Sausage? The arguments were never-ending, and sometimes bordered on violent! Well at our house, it was cornbread dressing.
My mother would bake the cornbread, stone ground cornbread from a recipe in her head that was never written down. For weeks, she would have been freezing day old bread, dinner rolls, hamburger buns...any other bread that might be getting a little dry and could be used for this as well. Thanksgiving Eve, Daddy would begin the process of turning that bread and cornbread into dressing. When I was older, I watched to see how he did it—because it was and still is my favorite of the Thanksgiving meal! You can all have your pies and cakes, just give me a big heap of dressing and gravy! Daddy chopped all the vegetables, and mushed all the breads and broth with his hands until it was the proper moistness, then baked it golden brown—just right to soak up all that giblet gravy!!
He usually baked the dressing the night before because he thought it had a better flavor after sitting overnight. While he tried different cooking methods on the turkey, the dressing never changed. I have considered trying different dressing recipes through the years, but when my daughters would find out my intentions, they would blanche. “What? You are not making Grandaddy’s dressing???” So, I have never tried any of those sausage or cranberry dressings. But that's ok, this one ROCKS.
1--9" X 11" cake pan of cornbread (4 packages of cornbread mix, made per directions)
6 slices bread
3 cans chicken broth
5 raw eggs, beaten
3 stalks celery, sliced (approx 2 cups)
1 large white onion, diced (approx 2 cups)
5 boiled eggs, coarse chopped
2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons poultry seasoning
Place slices of bread in large pan, and cover with broth, allow to soak a few minutes.
Crumble the cornbread with your hands. Blend into the bread and broth until well combined. Add beaten eggs.
Sprinkle salt and poultry seasoning over the top of the bread. Top with onion and celery, blend in well with your hands. If the breads are very dry, you might add more broth if it is not wet enough. It should be similar to a soft mashed potato consistency--kinda gloppy. (Don't you love my culinary technical prowess?)
Add chopped boiled eggs. Fold into mixture carefully as not to break them apart too much. Place in greased pan, cover with foil.
Bake 45 minutes covered at 375 degrees. Remove foil, and bake for 45 minutes uncovered. Check for doneness by inserting knife in the center--there should be no jiggle when shaken, and it should be firm, not too soft in the center.
The thickness of the dressing will determine cooking time. If you choose a slightly larger roasting pan like a 12" X 16", it could be done after the 1.5 hours, and I recommend lowering the temp to 350 degrees. If it is as deep as this pan (disposable deep lasagna pan), continue to cook in 15 minute increments until done. This one took 45 minutes covered at 350 degrees, and one hour uncovered at 375 degrees to get to this point.
I always bake my dressing the day or two before so the flavors can blend, and it frees up the oven on Turkey Day. It can be frozen, thawed, and the finish bake done later. This one is as brown as I like to get it on the first bake. Keep in mind you will be re-heating it, and you do not want it overcooked and dry. I also prefer a roasting pan so it will get a good crunchy crust, but this one will be travelling across Texas with me, so a disposable will have to do.
Here you have the perfect vehicle for some delicious giblet gravy... you will never need potatoes again!
Have a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving my friends! Peace, Love, and DRESSING!