Gourmet Galley: Heritage dressings

Family touches make the favorite on holiday tables

I simply asked, “What side dish do you look forward to the most on the holiday table?”

Inevitably the answer was “My grandma’s or my mama’s dressing (or stuffing).”

Fortunately, many families are holding onto their heritage recipes and passing them down to the younger generations. Those dishes, no matter how grand or simple, are held in high esteem when the family gathers for big meals.

Some of us remember the older generations around the table chopping and preparing a couple of days in advance of the holiday meal. Remember the old meat grinder firmly attached to the table edge to grind giblets for the dressing? Skillets of cornbread were cooling, sweet potatoes were coming out of the oven for candied yams — just lots of activity going on in the kitchen. I remember us having to pick and shell pecans that were also coming in.

Today’s grandchildren are making Grandma’s recipes, but doing it quicker because of modern conveniences and that’s a necessity because so many are working up until the day before the holiday.

Forget cutting up all the seasonings by hand; that’s done in a food processor or purchased already cut up and ready to sauté. Though cornbread can so quickly be stirred together, many opt for cornbread mixes.

The giblets or dressing mix also comes frozen.

The dressing you remember and love was the one served at your house. It was the best! If your grandma was Italian, your dressing had an Italian flair to it with seasonings, cheese and maybe Italian sausage in it.

New Orleans-area tables were set with big dishes of oyster dressing. Those were made with cornbread, French bread or a mix of breads with the oysters and seasonings.

My Cajun-style cornbread dressing is a mixture of well-seasoned ground beef with cornbread. Many grandmas served bread dressing, just breads with cutup seasonings and homemade broth, and that was a favorite.

Cornbread or bread mixed with sausage, giblets, chicken or beef, and your own touches of seasonings and herbs make your dressing unique. Most of the dressings basically start with the same ingredients but take on a family twist started by someone in the family. Did Grandma’s dressing really taste better because she cut all her ingredients by hand or do we just want to remember those meals as being so special?

I have thought about making some of the “new” fruit and nut dressing combinations, but my family won’t hear of anything but Ursula’s Cornbread Dressing. She was not our grandma but a very dear neighbor.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.