Thanksgiving is a wonderful season of family time, memories, and delicious and nostalgic food. I love hearing what dishes are special to each person. My friend Cathy says it’s their traditional corn pudding. My daughter is taking stuffing when the entrée is ham, just because for her it isn’t Thanksgiving without stuffing. Can it be called stuffing when there is nothing to stuff? Maybe. Stove Top does. In Tennessee we called it dressing.
With our family, dressing can be made two ways—with bread and cornbread or without the cornbread. Each person has a preference. Of course I prefer the cornbread dressing because that’s what I grew up with. Mother would save biscuits and stale sliced bread to crumble in with her pan of cornbread. But it was her seasoning that made it great—sautéed celery and onion mixed with chicken or turkey broth plus lots of sage.
When we served a “typical Thanksgiving dinner” in Natal, Brazil, we had trouble finding corn meal even though corn is very common there. We finally found it but it had bugs in it, so we ended up using a kind of ground root, cassava, that is easy to find there. Many things are made of it and at first I thought it was corn meal. I followed my mother’s mantra in making the dressing: “You can never put in too much sage.” We even bought a small bunch of dried sage at the local market to supplement what I’d brought from home. It worked out very well. Most people loved it.
For me it’s sweet potato casserole, which I sometimes eat for dessert. The first time I fell in love with a sweet potato casserole, Steve was preaching in a gospel meeting in Boone, North Carolina, around 1975. A sweet lady there served the best I’d ever eaten and I made her recipe for years. Yes, it was topped with marshmallows! But more recently I prefer one I got from my friend Bev, and that topping is pecans and brown sugar, which I love.
When I was a child, for Thanksgiving dinner we would have fresh-ground sausage, sometimes with green beans and cornbread or biscuits. I don’t recall what else, but I loved that sausage. I can still see my grandmother’s strong hands mixing the spices into the ground pork. She’d already sewed long, thin bags of muslin and she’d stuff that sausage in those bags for Granddaddy to hang in the smokehouse with the hams. Yes, we killed hogs that day because Daddy was off from school for two days and it was always cold enough to have our “hog-killin’.”
In 1957, we lived in North Carolina for a year and didn’t get to go to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. My uncle and aunt came to visit and we crammed into our tiny kitchen in UNC student housing in Chapel Hill.
By the time we were married, days were warmer and they were tired of slopping hogs, anyway. So we started having more traditional meals, especially since those of us who had moved away were home for the holiday. That’s when I learned to love my mother’s cornbread dressing. She made it like her mother’s, which I’d always enjoyed at Christmas.
Thanksgiving brings with it all kinds of memories, some good, some not so good. My mother-in-law died a few days before Thanksgiving; my son-in-law’s dear grandmother died a few days before Thanksgiving. Those memories bring sadness as well as fond memories of those who have passed.
But all in all, Thanksgiving is a time of grace and gratitude, warmth and sharing, laughter and tears. It’s by far my favorite holiday. How better to enjoy a day than to have food, family, and faith and be immensely grateful for all!