My oldest son Richard explained how to make a Thanksgiving turkey, when he was four years old:
You get a turkey and put butter and cinnamon on it, and bake it for 60 minutes at 80 degrees.
I never gave his recipe a try (primarily because I was concerned about food poisoning) but I can report that he is now an excellent and creative cook.
When my youngest son Travis was in second grade, he gave this account of Thanksgiving at our house, in a school report.
I would get turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, milk and wine for my parents. Also pumpkin pie and pecan pie. I like cherry pie.
You put the turkey in the oven. That’s what we always do. You put green beans in a pot.
We have really fancy cups from a drawer where we keep things that can break very fragilly. We use lots of fancy dishes, forks and knives. We put these plastic flowers that look real and candles in the middle. We have these like placemats with little decorations on them; we’ve had them for years. I know there is one more thing, but I forgot…
I was prettied mortified that his teacher thought I used PLASTIC FLOWERS on my holiday dinner table, but glad he recognized that the Waterford stems were
Italian fragile. Also, he hates green beans. He once held a green bean in his mouth for over an hour rather than swallowing it. I know.
I learned to make cornbread dressing by watching my grandmother, and improvising on my own. I’ve never mastered her technique of burning the cornbread to quite the carbonized flavor (“just scrape the burnt part off”), but as traditions go, this is one I’m just going to have to let go.
My sons and family love my dressing. I make seriously huge batches, starting with at least three recipes of cornbread as the base. My ex’s grandmother always bragged about how much her grandson loved her dressing, and would bring big pans of it to family gatherings, where no one in my family would touch the nasty stuff. I was vindicated when my ex said, in her presence, that I made the best dressing he had ever eaten. I still make it when my sons visit on the holidays, so then can take leftovers home with them. Travis reported that his dad ate everything I sent home, so now I put a note on the cover “for TRAVIS ONLY.”
Here is my approximate recipe. I’ve reduced the amounts to something a normal family would eat, I think.
Naomi’s Texas Cornbread Dressing
Make one batch of basic yellow cornbread, such as you find printed on the box of Aunt Jemima cornmeal. If you are inclined to add sugar, don’t. (What are you anyway, a heathen?) Cool, crumble up, leaving pieces the size of marbles. You can make this ahead of time and store in refrigeration, sealed.
Saute, in one stick of real butter, one medium-large yellow onion and about 4-6 ribs of celery, both coarsely chopped. (This is a holiday. You don’t eat this every day, or even every month. Just get over the calories, it will only be a teaspoon or so per serving). Saute until very soft and translucent, and set aside to cool slightly. To make it easier to mix the seasonings in such large batches, I season this mixture directly – generously use pepper, about 2 teaspoons of rubbed sage, a teaspoon of poultry seasoning, and salt to taste.
Put cornbread into a large bowl. Beat two eggs and pour over, then add onion-butter mixture, and mix thoroughly. Then add either turkey or chicken stock, until the mixture is fairly wet but not soggy. You can make some stock by simmering the neck or trimmings from your turkey. Personally I NEVER make gut gravy (which some people refer to as ‘giblet’ gravy in order to hide the truth from what they are trying to feed you). You can also used canned stock.
Turn all of this into an oiled baking dish, no more than 3″ deep. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F for about an hour, removing the foil during the last 15 minutes so that the top can brown and have a slight crust. Serve! It’s wonderful with gravy as well.
Some options are to include some of the celery leaves, chopped as well, for more celery flavor if you like. I’ve also added some well-browned, high quality thick cut bacon, crumbled.
Enjoy, and let me know if you try it.