For a few weeks, we are given precious moments to focus on the traditions of the past which give us comfort and to enjoy the deliberate process of creating a Thanksgiving meal with intention and passion.
Thanksgiving is the celebration which brings us together with family and friends simply for the purpose of being together, without the stress of gifts or other expectations. The emphasis is on gathering and providing pleasure through the meal. So well-worn cookbooks tabbed with various forms of bookmarks, clips, or sticky notes make their way to kitchen counters and the hunt is on for the perfect recipes to complete the menu. The Thanksgiving meal develops as the planning becomes one of the enjoyments of the occasion.
Any creative process requires a solid foundation, and the dressing, usually appearing on our menus just once or twice a year, frequently becomes one of the essential cores of this meal. The following recipe provides a basic framework for creating a smoky-flavored, rich broth which makes seasoning the dressing much simpler. Also serving as a flavorful base for soup or gravy, this broth provides an enticing, welcoming aroma which lingers throughout the day as it simmers on the stove.
Smoked Chicken Broth
1 whole chicken
Seasonings of your choice: garlic powder, seasoned salt, seasoned pepper, fresh or dried herbs — rosemary, thyme, etc.
Vegetables of your choice cut into chunks: carrots, onions, celery
1. Mix the seasonings together and rub them all over the outside of the chicken and inside the cavity. Put carrots, onions, celery, and fresh herbs into the cavity.
2. Smoke the chicken with hickory chips over low heat.
3. Pull the bird apart and place it in a large stockpot, cover with water, and add carrots, onion, celery, herbs, and other seasonings.
4. Cover, bring to a boil, and then simmer the broth over low heat for about four to five hours, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove the lid and let the broth cool before refrigerating it overnight.
6. Heat and then strain the broth.
Once the broth is made, the soul-satisfying process of preparing the dressing can begin. Since many Southern cooks make their dressing by feel and taste and have never resorted to written instructions, the most rewarding way to learn this art is to watch these cooks at work and take notes. This recipe was built over many years and includes the teachings and techniques of at least four individual cooks- my mother, mother-in-law, brother, and best friend.
Many Minds Thanksgiving Dressing
1 stick unsalted butter
2 large onions- chopped
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 recipe cornbread
6 cooked biscuits
1 10-14 ounce package stuffing mix
4 eggs- beaten
6-8 cups chicken broth
Seasonings of your choice to taste- Salt, pepper, sage, etc.
1. Sauté the onions, celery, and pepper in the butter.
2. Break up the cornbread and biscuits in a very large bowl. Add the stuffing mix and sautéed vegetables. Stir well.
3. Add the eggs and enough broth to make a very moist mixture.
4. Add the seasonings to taste.
5. Pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 until the dressing is brown but still moist.
•The key to success with dressing is the moistness. You do not want it to be dry once it is cooked. So be generous with your broth.
•Do not season the dressing until after you have added all the broth you are going to use since the broth is seasoned.
•Save extra broth for gravy or adding to the dressing once it is cooked if necessary.
•You may want to use your hands to mix these ingredients.
•Use a cornbread recipe that does not include sugar.
•Make your cornbread the day before and loosely cover it so it will dry out slightly.
•Make this dressing a day or two before you cook it or freeze it to maximize its flavor.
Other recipes which find their way onto our Thanksgiving menu might be written on small slips of paper, in a grade school notebook, or on the back of a stained and yellowed page of an old desk calendar. Often written in the hand of the cook who graciously shared the recipe, these little mementos connect us to a great aunt, grandmother, or other family member we might not have actually known or knew for just a short period of time when we were children or young adults.
When I retrieve Grandmother Dabbs’ handwritten recipe for Mrs. Abraham Lincoln’s Pound Cake, I immediately see her in her small kitchen in Eastaboga and remember her strong presence and personality. This simple cake, with its dense texture and thin, crispy crust, is made from kitchen staples found in most pantries and provides a basic dessert which fits in nicely with a variety of menu items.
Mrs. Abraham Lincoln’s Pound Cake
1 cup salted butter
1 and 2/3 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Set the butter and eggs out so they can be used at room temperature.
2. Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, alternately with the flour. Beat well after adding each egg. Mix in the nutmeg.
4. Bake in a large greased and floured loaf pan at 325 for approximately one hour.
Over the years, as the children in a family become adults and start taking over the responsibilities for the family gatherings like Thanksgiving, we begin to appreciate the time and energy the women in our family expended in making these times together so special. When I was in the fifth grade, my mother went to work outside the home for the first time. At 40, she had to take a job selling clothes in a women’s store and was paid just above minimum wage, had no benefits, worked at least forty hours each week, and excelled at a job she loved. In spite of her work schedule, for many years, she continued to do most of the cooking and preparation for our family Thanksgiving gathering.
After she retired, we asked Mama to bring dessert as she passed the reins over to us for the rest of the meal. In recent years, we only requested her tempting cheese cookies which serve as a snack while the dressing finishes cooking. However, these cookies have become her signature contribution to this gathering, as significant to the meal and the memories as her turkey and dressing were years ago.
Mama’s Cheese Cookies
2 sticks margarine
1 pound extra sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
2 and 1/4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon red pepper
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1. Let the grated cheese and margarine soften. Mix them together with your
2. Add the flour, pepper, and salt. Mix well.
3. Roll into balls.
4. Place the dough balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten them with
the back of a fork.
5. Bake at 375 about 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
6. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
•Even if you prefer butter, use margarine. It works better in this recipe.
•For a fancier cookie, use a pecan half to flatten the cookie and sprinkle a little salt over each pecan before baking.
As a celebration focused on the joys of gathering with our friends and families, Thanksgiving rewards us with many pleasures. While we savor the careful and deliberate preparation of this holiday meal, we contentedly continue comforting traditions and gladly find memories of the people who are important in our lives.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890