Just a speed bump on the road between Hallowe’en and Christmas.
It’s my favorite holiday.
Only having to be thankful and eat the same bounteous goodness every year, watch football, may be go hunting, may be go to some parties. May be not. May be put up the Christmas Tree the following weekend. See? I’m already rushing my favorite holiday.
A national day of thanks.
A day that originally thanked God for the blessings of this life. All religions have days of thanks. Days of feasting. Days of fasting. Thanksgiving is a feast day. In our church, Hymn 397 in the 1982 Hymnal is “Now thank we all our God”. It’s a perfect hymn for Thanksgiving, even better than that New England staple where we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing with hastening and chastening.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices/who wondrous things hath done in whom his world rejoices/who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way/with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
Some of you began to hum the tune. Don’t lie.
The music is from Nun danket alle Gott by Johan Cruger, 1598-1662, whose dates coincided with the Pilgrims.
With all Pilgrim referencing out of the way, I need to let y’all know this little secret:
On Thanksgiving, we go full Southern.
Everybody knows you never go full Southern.
My father and two of his friends were early adapters of fried turkey.
We always have rice and gravy. What are these mashed potatoes you reference?
There is NEVER stuffing. There is ALWAYS dressing.
We hollow out oranges to fill with sweet potato souffle dotted with marshmallows.
We mold crushed cranberries, pineapple, pecans into a congealed salad that was the height of elegance some 60 years ago. We put a bop of mayonnaise on it, too. Yes we cran. Yes we will.
Broccoli casserole. Butterbeans. Green beans. We will pick one of you because there must be something green on our plates even if that’s a stupid rule.
We are out of the oyster pie (scalloped oysters) scene because I’m the only one who eats it.
My mother always made macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese with eggs and milk) from the old Potluck from Pawleys cookbook. I think it’s excessive. But, I make it. My mother’s is the best. I almost have it down, but it’s still not as good as her version.
There are squashes in various forms of casserole.
A shit ton of carbs.
There are pies.
There are cakes.
There are bloodies.
There are mimosas.
There are bottles of champagne.
There is wine. Good wine. Not that fetid, unpotable Beaujolais Nouveau that always comes out about the same time as Thanksgiving. It’s already turned into vinegar.
It’s been our family’s tradition to serve bloodies, mimosas, champagne along with Sister Schubert’s Sausage Wrap Rolls. Y’all might now them better as Pigs in a Blanket. With yellow mustard. It’s enough to tide us over until the feast. That and the pickled okra from the bloodies.
We eat the time our ancestors used to eat around 3 p.m.
My mouth is watering as I type.
I make turkey stock. I freeze cranberries for the cranberry salad. I don’t mess around with Thanksgiving.
I’ve decided I can do the entire meal. I’ve done it in the past. I’m sure I’ll be on it this year, too.
It just takes planning.
Last year, we took most of the meal to my parents’ house in Beaufort. My mother was over the moon appreciative.
I knew Mary Perrin Johnson was the one for me for many reasons. A shared love of the same food at Thanksgiving sealed the deal. Her family grew up eating what we ate. Like my family, her family put sliced hard boiled eggs in the gravy. It’s super old timey. Super Southern.
One year, one of our family members made something called gravy, but it wasn’t gravy. It was a thin sauce that had some turkey drippings near it. The cook added brandy. Bless them. Watery. Tepid. Bland. Cornstarch? WTF? My mother-in-law and I knowingly cut our eyes at each other. That misbegotten and misnamed sauce disappeared from the menu. Now thank we all our God.
Another year, back home in Beaufort, my mother said she would get Larry Taylor to make gravy for us. Hallelujah. Now thank we all our God.
Mr. Taylor was an amazing cook who cooked at the Beaufort Yacht Club and at his now shuttered restaurant, L.T.’s. My mother called on Mr. Taylor/Larry/LT on a regular basis to be her personal chef. He sliced eggs for his gravies, too. One time I asked him why we all put boiled sliced eggs in our gravy. His reply in deepest baritone, “Shhhhhiii…..hell if I know. We just do it.” Now thank we all our God.
To me, the most important component of Thanksgiving is good dressing. It’s the best supporting actor every year. It’s the reason the gravy must be perfect.
One year we were in New York for Thanksgiving. Parades. Museums. Shopping. Ice skating. Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Fred’s at Barney’s. Lafayette. But, come on, really, Big Apple? Chestnuts in the dressing? Maple syrup turkey? Mashed potatoes instead of rice? No no no no no no no.
In past years, we have gone to my in-laws’ family place in the mountains of North Carolina for Thanksgiving. In 2014, it snowed and snowed and snowed. We were housebound. I loved it and the Andover flashbacks as I sledded down the hill with our girls.
One of the first years we went to the mountains, I offered to make the dressing. I had made it only one time before my offer. What was I thinking? I scoured my cookbooks.
The problem with receipts for dressing and gravy is that there really aren’t receipts for dressing and gravy. It’s sort of like having a receipt for toast, for scrambled eggs, for grits. It’s just something that one knows how to do if one is alive and lives anywhere south of … well… the North Pole.
As I scoured cookbooks one night, I remembered having turkey and dressing at Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill. Really good turkey and dressing drowning in perfect turkey gravy. I looked in her cookbook, which she autographed for me. It’s the best. Mama Dip was the late Mildred Council who died this year. Her restaurant in Chapel Hill has fed generations. She was an amazing cook who was called Dip because she dipped her hands in all her dishes and rarely measured. I wish I could be as intuitive a cook.
Years ago someone asked a Charleston cook how much of something she needed for her dish Her reply was that she put in enough of one ingredient to take up the slack. That statement is memorialized in Charleston Receipts. That’s how great gravies are made. Enough flour is added to take up the slack.
I’m still taking up the slack myself.
Mama Dip’s dressing will be on the menu on Thanksgiving Day.
I hope it’s on yours, too.
Here’s my modified version.
Go ahead. Go full Southern.
1 stick butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
4-5 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 batches of cornbread (see below- doubles easily for the dressing)
4 c. bread crumbs from stale ends, old rolls, old bread, biscuit ends you’ve been throwing in the freezer since August
3-4 c. turkey broth or chicken broth
2 tbsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. sage (controversial in some households)(omit if the folks don’t like it)
3 eggs, beaten
In a large saute pan, saute vegetables until soft, about 8-10 mins. While they cook, add all other ingredients, except broth and eggs, to a large bowl and mix well. Add cooked vegetables. Add eggs and broth and mix well. Spread into a well greased 9X13 dish. Bake at 400 for 30-45 mins. This freezes really well prior to cooking. Just seal tightly and remove from the freezer the night before Turkey Day. Leave on the counter. It will be thawed by the morning. Also, you may want to add a little more broth while it cooks if you think it’s getting too dry. Don’t burn it. If it’s getting too dark on the top or too dark on the sides, cover with foil, and only cook for 30 mins. As this will probably cook with three other things in the oven, it’s o.k. if it cooks at 350. It will just take a little longer.
It’s really good sliced thinly and put on a turkey sandwich the next day.
1 c. self rising corn meal
1/2 c. self rising flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. butter
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
Heat oven to 400. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, add the beaten eggs to the buttermilk. Place butter in 8×8 baking dish and place in oven for just a few minutes until melted. Don’t letter the butter brown or burn. As soon as it’s melted, take out of the oven and swirl all over baking dish. After swirling, add melted butter to eggs and milk and add wet to dry. Stir well until it’s just mixed. Don’t over mix, but make sure all is incorporated. One year, let’s just say there was some major dryness to our cornbread for dressing, and I had to start again with a better mixed batch. Pour into hot dish and bake for 20 mins or so or until brown. You can double this one easily, just use a bigger dish.
The dressing has almost two sticks of butter in it, and for that, now thank we all our God.