I’m intimidated when I think too very much about our holiday dressing (turkey dressing, that is, not what we’re wearing). Thus it was that in the hustle and bustle of the holidays I was unable to face writing about it. But today, as others slog through post-Christmas sales and I sit here at 1:14 p.m. in my embarrassingly cute new kitty pajamas, I feel I can begin to describe it.
We’re not stuffers in my family–we cook our dressing in a pan once the turkey is done. But what intimidates me is this: Preparations for the event begin in the spring, when the sage in my mother’s herb garden begins to grow.
My Granny (not Mammaw of potato soup fame, who was my father’s mother) apparently grew and dried her own sage for the sake of holiday stuffing. The things my grandmothers did for the sake of food–wring the necks of chickens, grow tomatoes and herbs, and bravest of all, pluck eggs from beneath laying hens–would make Martha Stewart wish she were back in jail. In fact, that last job of egg gathering is the most fearsome task I can remember facing as a child. I don’t think I ever did it, actually, so terrified I was to reach underneath that fat feathered body, my tender wrist just inches below that sharp beak. Being too chicken (dear God, please don’t let Fred see that pun), I would lurk about until the hen had left her nest unguarded before sneaking in like a weasel and making off with the eggs.
Anyway, for the dressing, which is moist and very flavorful. One note of caution: This recipe is hopeless without good sage. If you know of a place that sells exceptionally good dried sage, you might be able to cheat and use that as a substitute–but if you think you can squeak by with the grocery store variety, try another recipe. You can’t cheat with canned turkey broth either–you have to siphon the fat off the bird. But I have yet to find a dressing I like better.
Good luck. If you actually try this on your own, please let me know next year.
Granny’s Turkey Dressing (serves 10, with leftovers)
In the spring:
Plant 5-6 sage plants.
In the fall:
Harvest sage and dry for at least 2 months. Alternatively, buy some fresh sage in August and let it dry in a brown paper bag.
At least one week before Thanksgiving:
Buy a loaf of white bread and allow to get a little stale. Granted, given the amount of preservatives in your typical loaf of Wonder this could take more than a week, but you can always remove it from the package to hurry the process along–provided, of course, you don’t have lard-butt cats who will leap onto the counter top, wrestle the loaf to the floor, and eat it.
Make a pan of cornbread. Any recipe will do.
Crush sage by rubbing it together. Remove stems. You will need at least ½ cup and probably more.
Melt 1 stick butter in skillet. Finely chop 1 large onion and 1 bunch celery in food processor or by hand. Saute onion and celery in butter until soft. Refrigerate overnight.
2 hours before mealtime:
Crumble cornbread and several slices of the white bread into a large bowl. Siphon as much broth from turkey as you can with a turkey baster. Resist temptation to make jokes with your lesbian relatives/friends. Pull off and shred about ½ cup dark meat, the cooked liver and other giblets. Add to bread. Add celery and onion, 2 or 3 eggs, 1/2 cup sage, and salt and pepper to mixture. Add broth to moisten. Mix by digging your clean hands into the mess and squishing it together.
Taste the mix. Add more salt. Add more sage. Taste again. Get someone else to taste it. Argue about whether or not it needs more sage. Add more sage. Have everyone taste it again. Add some pepper. Add some salt. Keep adjusting ingredients until all tasters are relatively happy, except the one who thinks it needs more salt, which you can always add at the table anyway. The mix should be the consistency of very thick cream of wheat or oatmeal.
Put dressing into large (9 x 13 or so) casserole. Bake at 350 for about an hour. It should be very moist but golden on top. Slice into squares no larger than 2″ and serve. Makes a fabulous lunch, breakfast or dinner the next day.