Years before I was born–years before my Dad was born, for that matter–my Gramsie left the South of England for the American South. It was wartime, and she was sent to live with her new in-laws on a farm in rural Fulton, Mississippi. Mamaw, my great grandmother who I never met, taught Gramsie a few things about cooking across the pond. Dressing was on the list of recipes she picked up.
It’s kind of ironic that a glamourous Brit ended up being the carrier of a deeply Southern family recipe, which is presented with great fanfare on our holiday tables. That said, my Gramsie made the best cornbread dressing I’ve ever tasted. It was perfect every time.
From what I am told, Mamaw cooked from pure intuition. Gramsie was just the same. She never measured the ingredients for the dressing, choosing memory and repetition over cups and tablespoons.
As Gramsie got older, she knew the skill needed to be passed down. Just like Mamaw, she taught her daughter-in-law, my Mom. After a few holidays of cooking with Gramsie, Mom mastered the preparation. While this is still a “taste it and see” recipe, Mom started the work on getting the basic formula on paper. I got hold of it this year and have been tinkering with it myself.
Easter is a classic meal for dressing to make an appearance, but I’ve decided it shouldn’t be relegated to a holiday table. Dressing is easy to put together and makes a tasty use for leftover cornbread and rolls.
I make cornbread quite a lot, and I’ve been keeping a bag of leftovers in the freezer. When the bag is full, it’s time for a batch of dressing. Here’s how I make it:
1 teaspoon canola oil
3/4 cup diced celery
1.5 cups diced onion
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4-1 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
9 cups cornbread crumbles. (Not the sweet kind. Yuck!)
4 cups white rolls, torn into very small pieces.
3 cups vegetable broth, or water + 1 vegetable bouillon cube
1/4 cup butter
3 eggs, hardboiled then finely chopped
*Heat the canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onion sage and pepper. Sauté lightly for a few minutes, until the vegetable are soft and translucent. Do not brown.
*Meanwhile, measure your cornbread and white bread and mix them together in a large bowl. Add the onion/celery mixture. Stir to ensure it is evenly distributed.
*In a sauce pan (or in the microwave for that matter!) heat the broth and butter until they are mixed together. Slowly pour about half of the liquid into the cornbread mixture. Stir it together and give it a hard look. Do you need more liquid? If so, add. You want everything wet, but not gummy and pasty.
*Stir in the hardboiled eggs.
*Spread the dressing evenly in a 13 x 9 baking pan. Use the back of a spoon to press it evenly through your dish. Press hard! You want everything to stick together.
*Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Cooking time will depend greatly on how dry your breadcrumbs were. You want the finished product to be browned and crumbly on top, slightly moist inside.