I am drying torn up pieces of bread so that I can later wet it with home-made chicken and turkey broth. This seems an odd process when I let my mind rest on it. But at its most essential, that’s what cornbread dressing is — lots of hot broth and lots and lots of dry bread. Somehow, within this humble combination a miracle happens, which makes the ordinary anything but. And this was especially true when Granny took the stuff to task.
I’m not sure, but I have a hunch that Granny used whatever bread she had around: maybe a few hamburger buns, left-over brown-‘n’-serve rolls from Sunday’s dinner, a few leftover canned biscuits that my Grandfather wanted at every meal, in addition to store-bought loaves of bread. And of course, Granny would have baked fresh cornbread to dry, probably from a store-bought mix.
Maybe I like to think Granny did this because this is what I do. I don’t purchase store-bought loaves of bread often, though I did have half a loaf sitting in my freezer that went into my drying pans. This year’s assortment also includes freshly baked cornbread from 3 packages of a Shawnee Mills mix, a dozen plus left-over Sure Shot Rolls from Sunday’s dinner and a few baguettes bought from the local French Saigon bakery.
Long after I’d mastered Granny’s egg noodles, I never thought to recreate Granny’s dressing in my own kitchen. The thought seemed not just intimidating but a sacrilege; to attempt this miracle would be to walk on hallowed ground. But one too warm November day in Texas — when I was hungry for a taste of home and probably not in my right mind — I decided to metaphorically shed my shoes and take a few baby steps.
Like most of Granny’s best dishes, no written recipe exists. I know this since I inherited Granny’s one and only cookbook; all her prized Thanksgiving jewels are missing; no noodles, no cranberry relish, no cornbread dressing. So when I called Granny, she had to come up with a recipe on the spot. And while I don’t kid myself that my dressing, even with Granny’s recipe, tastes anything like Granny’s, it’s better than any I could make with any other recipe.
Perhaps it’s time to hunt down the missing recipe of Granny’s Thanksgiving trilogy — surely one of the aunts has Granny’s recipe for cranberry relish. I know my brother would be mighty grateful for a taste of it. In the meantime, try Granny’s dressing for a taste of the best in southern comfort food. From my life to yours.
8 to 10 Servings5 cups dried cornbread pieces 5 cups dried yeast bread pieces 5 to 6 cups hot chicken or turkey broth 3 stalks of celery, diced 1 small onion, diced 3 Tbsp butter 2 eggs, slightly beaten 1 tsp poultry seasoning 1 tsp sage 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper
Three days before (see note for quick dry method)
Tear up bread into a large cake pan or roaster; spread thin enough that bread is able to easily dry. Stir daily until dried. Leave on counter, covered at night.
One day before:
Bring broth to a boil.
Saute vegetables in butter until softened, over medium low heat.
In a large bowl, add dried bread crumbs and mix in spices. Add all other ingredients (except for eggs.) Taste to adjust seasonings. I often double the sage and poultry seasoning; and depending on the amount of salt in the broth, I may add more salt as well. The consistency of your dressing mix should be more than just moist, rather like cooked oatmeal. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight.
Spray a 9 x 13 pan liberally with Pam. Do one final taste test to adjust seasonings before adding eggs. Add more broth if dressing has lost its oatmeal-like consistency. Then add eggs to the dressing and mix well. Pour dressing into pan and bake in a 400 oven for 20-30 minutes.
Note for quicker dry: Preheat oven to 250 degrees and turn it off. Place bread pieces in oven proof pan, to dry. Every couple of hours stir bread pieces and reheat then turn off the oven. In the evening, the bread should be removed from the oven, and once cooled it can be covered. The process can begin again the next day until bread is dried. This was my Mother’s solution, when she would inevitably remember on Tuesday that she’d forgotten to begin drying on Sunday. Once dried, leave on top of the counter, still exposed to air, until time to mix.