Sunday, November 28, 2010
The Sanctity of Cornbread Dressing
I never knew cookware could bring out such emotion in me, but somehow it did. This is no ordinary pot, though. It's not high tech or new, but it is very special to me, none the less. You might look at this battered, silver pan and think it's ready to be replaced with a more modern, stylish piece. I look at it, and my childhood holiday memories flash before my eyes. Every Etch-a-Sketch, Lite Brite, and Malibu Barbie appear clear as a bell to me. This metal dish that twice a year held the most heavenly cornbread dressing was as much a part of Thanksgiving and Christmas for me as cranberry sauce and indigestion, and I made an Executive Decision this week that I will not spend another holiday away from it.
Although I am neither nostalgic nor sentimental, I have very strong opinions when it comes to traditions. You know, such as how there's an unwritten rule that all people (maybe it's just all Southern People) must shoot off fireworks and barbecue some variety of animal on the fourth of July. If a sparkler isn't lit or a spent bottle rocket doesn't find its way to your rooftop, then you aren't properly celebrating the birth of our nation, people. Also, I'm fairly sure that if you don't have baked ham and potato salad on Easter, well, then you're just going to hell aren't you? And, those naysayers who balk at a New Year's Day menu of black-eyed peas, greens and some over-cooked pig dish may as well just crawl back under the sheets on January first because their hope for a New Year full of happiness and prosperity just went into the garbage along with the wrapper from a McDonald's Big Mac, bought to quell a queasy hangover stomach.
I would be lying if I said that getting gifts at Christmas as a kid wasn't a big deal, but just as important was the tradition of eating my mom's baked goodies that she prepared for us the whole season through. It wouldn't have been the same without her haystacks, home made fudge or spicy sausage balls. And, it would have surely been a downright travesty if we didn't have her extremely sage-y cornbread dressing baked in this famous pan that probably pre-dates the death of JFK. I don't remember a single Thanksgiving or Christmas in my life when I didn't either sit around her table for lunch or at least stop by for plate of her good cooking if other plans kept me away.
After she passed on, I knew my holiday traditions would never be the same. When it comes to cooking, I suck. There is just no nicer way to say it. The first couple of years after her death, I prepared the meals on my own following her recipes, and it was mostly fine. At least I could boast that I did it from scratch even though the dressing was a little dry and the mashed potatoes "needed something". This year, however, my in-laws were graciously providing the Thanksgiving lunch. We were invited to "just show up", and no cooking or fretting was required. It sounded good to me at first, but then I found out that our entire meal would be not-so-lovingly prepared by strangers at a local grocery store, picked up the day before, and re-heated on the Big Day.
No. NO. NO! My husband's parents are two of the nicest people on the planet, but that isn't what we do for Thanksgiving or Christmas. A re-heated grocery store meal is utterly sacrilegious! The tradition is that we spend and plan and sweat and bake and mix and worry and mash and check the oven and say that we'll never have everything done in time and funnel Merlot (okay, that's just me), and then we sit down at the table to a Holiday Feast, and everyone eats until their pants no longer fit.
So, this year we had our Whole Foods lunch on Thursday, but Friday, I took it back to my roots. I got out that beat-up old pan and made cornbread dressing that would have made my mama proud, along with turkey, gooey, yummy macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, buttery corn, and pecan pie. Even if I really can't eat any of that stuff in real life, I felt like I had just created the Venus de Milo as I surveyed the spread. Although it was the Friday after Thanksgiving and only the four of us, it still felt right. This was how it's supposed to be.
So, I'm officially declaring that my family will celebrate the holidays the good old fashioned way at our house with Jell-O molds and a dash of family tension until further notice. Y'all come.