It’s time we had a little talk about the semantics of “dressing” versus “stuffing.”
Where I come from, south Alabama, we are die-hard dressing people. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard any of my brethren or sistren from south of the Mason-Dixon line refer to the most beloved of all Thanksgiving sides as “stuffing.” Stuffing is something I only see in glossy magazines usually next to a picture of parsnips or chard some other odd thing.
As far as I can tell there are a few distinctions between “stuffing” and “dressing.”
Where you come from. As I mentioned above, people from the great frozen North or the Midwest or the West and West Coast seem to eat “stuffing.” And I’ve heard that there are a few people in Pennsylvania who call it “filling,” but we won’t even go there. People from my little corner of the world called the South eat “dressing.”
Ingredients. What you put in your Thanksgiving side dish seems to depend on what is readily available where you live. In the South, cornbread is king. Going back to the earliest settlers, corn was always easily grown, providing sustenance when other foods might have been scarce. And cornbread can be made with only two ingredients if that’s all you have — cornmeal and water. Bread stuffing seems to be the traditional favorite where wheat flour and bread would have been the staple.
Fruit and nuts. Speaking of ingredients, stuffing seems to have fruit and nuts in it. Cranberries, apples, chestnuts, butternut squash (technically a fruit, you can look it up) all seem to be popular ingredients … for some people. I want my fruit and nuts in dessert, not in my dressing. Dressing is savory — full of sage and rich broth and onions and celery. It is not fruity or nutty, which is what I think the whole concept of these ingredients dressing is.
Inside or outside. Some people say that dressing is always cooked in a dish separate from the turkey or “outside” it while stuffing is cooked inside the bird. That’s a lie. In fact, I recently read an article about stuffing and how it’s always cooked inside the bird but the picture showed the stuffing in a froufrou baking dish. We’ve always cooked both inside and outside dressing, and each family member has their favorite.
Nicety. “Stuffing” just sounds a little crude. Would you ever say, “Granny, go stuff your bird.” We like to “dress” our dead fowl. It sounds nicer. Fancier. Like putting your best Sunday overalls on it.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way. Let’s get down to the business of dressing, which I personally view as the most important Thanksgiving dish. Turkey is a mere formality, but the dressing … oooh weeee! That’s what I look forward to.
As I told you yesterday, we always had rice dressing at home. That’s why I couldn’t wait until Rosa A. Lott Elementary School served its Thanksgiving lunch and I got a little ice cream scoop full of cornbread dressing. It was a rare treat for me, that little mound of gravy-covered goodness. And if I could sweet talk some other kid out of his serving or trade for it, well … that was the best day ever.
As an adult, I’ve made a good bit of cornbread dressing. But recently I was talking with my friend Krista about family recipes, and she told me that her mama used a trick that I’d never thought of — she cooked the celery and onions in with the cornbread instead of adding them later. Krista shared her mama’s cornbread dressing recipe with me, but like all good home recipes from good home cooks, it was a little vague on instruction. So I made a batch, adjusted a little here and there (mostly to make it gluten-free), and it turned out really well! As if I ever doubted her recipe.
Here’s my version of cornbread dressing based on Mrs. Mingus’ recipe.
(This recipe is easily doubled.)
- 1 Tbsp of Crisco or lard
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 5 eggs (2 for the cornbread and 3 for the dressing)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
- 1½ cup milk or buttermilk
- 2-3 Tbsp melted butter plus more butter to grease your baking dish
- 3 Tbsp sage
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- Salt (1 tsp for the cornbread, to taste for the dressing)
- Preheat oven to 350° and make the cornbread.
- Take an iron skillet and put about a Tbsp of Crisco or lard in it. Put that in the oven while it’s preheating so that the skillet gets good and hot and the grease is melted.
- Mix the cornmeal, 2 eggs, baking powder, 1 tsp salt. Add to that the chopped onion, chopped celery, poultry seasoning, and milk or buttermilk.
- When the oven is heated and the skillet is hot, take the skillet out, swirl the hot grease around so that the inside of the skillet is coated, and put your cornbread mixture in it.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until good and brown on the top. You can tell it’s done when you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
- When the cornbread is done and cooled, crumble it into a big bowl. Add the melted butter, sage, your remaining 3 eggs that have been beaten up, and the chicken stock. Add salt to taste and adjust seasonings. I like a lot of sage and you might too. If you want more poultry seasoning, add it on in. Dressing is all about what you like. The mixture should be fairly wet.
- Put it all in a baking dish that you’ve buttered, and bake the whole thing at 350° until it’s browned on top and cooked through.
- Forget about the turkey and the trimmings, and get you a big old heaping plate of dressing!!
- Don’t forget that the leftovers are sometimes better than the first time around! Make extra!
Note: I made if for Husband and me the other night, and when I was mixing up the dressing, I added in some rotisserie chicken that I had taken off the bone. It made a great one-dish dinner.