DUELING DRESSINGS: Church of the Holy Trinity and Crawford Street United Methodist Church keep tradition alive
Every year for more than a century, the Church of the Holy Trinity and Crawford Street United Methodist Church have turned Vicksburg into Turkey Town. The two churches put on their biggest fundraisers of the year, mobilizing their membership to cook, assemble, sell and distribute 1,900 turkey dinner plates to the public.
While turkey is the main course, however, it’s not the star of the show. That honor goes to the sides, and the dressing in particular. Each church has a unique recipe and process that they follow, handed down from generation to generation and used to make both massive quantities for their fundraisers and smaller batches for family dinners.
“I half it, and a lot of other people do, too,” said Pat Pierce, the dressing chairman of Crawford Street’s turkey dinner committee. “A lot of people will make it for Thanksgiving and freeze it for Christmas.”
Crawford Street will sell 1,000 plates at its turkey dinner on Nov. 8, while Holy Trinity plans to make and sell 900 plates at its fundraiser on Nov. 15. Both churches charge $10 for the dinners and require diners to buy tickets for them in advance to ensure there is the right amount made.
The churches have been doing the same fundraiser side by side for decades, but that’s about where the similarities end. The menus are slightly different — Crawford Street includes corn pudding as a side, while Holy Trinity has a cranberry salad — and so are both the recipes and methods of making the dressing.
Holy Trinity makes it in bulk. The week of the fundraiser, a host of church members will gather to prepare a different part of the meal each day.
Wednesday is dressing day.
In the church’s kitchen, one group will chop onions and celery while another saute’s them. Nearby, other members crumble cornbread and hand it off to dressing chairman Bobbie Marascalco, who mixes it with chicken broth, eggs, butter and seasoning before pan after pan goes into the oven for 45 minutes per batch.
The assembly line will churn out about 100 pounds of dressing before calling it a day.
Such a massive undertaking requires some specialized tools. Long ago the church purchased a large plastic tub used to mix cement on construction jobs and turned it into the main mixing station for the dressing. Panic set in one year when the tub was lost and no one could find a replacement.
“We lost it, and couldn’t find one at the store. It had been here as long as I can remember and no one knew where it was,” said Marascalco, who has worked on various parts of the dinner for more than 30 years. “People came back with three different kinds of pans. Now we have a backup.”
There are actually two backups now, along with the original that has a piece of duct tape over one corner to repair a damaged edge.
One block over at Crawford Street, the turkey dinner committee uses a more diversified approach to making the dressing. Thirty of its members are given the recipe, a pan and a box of specific ingredients, and tasked with making one pan each. As the pans are returned the week of the dinner they are checked in to ensure there’s enough on hand to fill every plate.
Pierce said the relatively small kitchen at Crawford Street made it easier for individual church members to make batches rather than doing it en masse like at Holy Trinity. Each pan is enough to feed 36 people.
The recipe and ingredients list, meanwhile, evolved over time to ensure consistency. Cases of chefs going rogue and making their own recipes can be disastrous, or at the very least uncomfortable if it’s not up to snuff.
“There was a person, who is now departed, who would make their own dressing and ingredients, and it would never make it to the serving table,” joked dressing maker Anita Lofton. “She did many good things for this church, but she was not a dressing maker.”
Whether it’s at Holy Trinity or Crawford Street, there always seems to be plenty of extra dressing once the dinners are all out the door.
“We sell it in gallon Zip-Lock bags,” Marascalco said. “That’ll feed close to 20 people.”
One of Marascalco’s fellow dressing makers, Donna Saunders, immediately added, “I don’t even make it at Thanksgiving. I buy it from the church.”
At Crawford Street, making the dressing is something of a family tradition. Mary Kaylin Gray is a third-generation dressing maker. She said all three generations gather each November to make plenty of dressing for the entire holiday season — and for the whole family.
“Last year me, my mother and my grandmother made several pans for the church,” Gray said. “Then all of the aunts and uncles got a pan. There were pans everywhere.”
Neither church’s recipe is a closely-guarded secret. Holy Trinity has published its recipe in a church cookbook that is available for $29.95 through church members or local bookstores.
“It was in hiding until we put it in the cookbook,” Marascalco laughed.
Crawford Street freely shares its recipe among members, especially if they’re willing to chip in the time and effort to make a pan for the fundraiser. It is, after all, a tradition.
“This is a family tradition that’s handed down from generation to generation,” Crawford Street member Susie Chatham said.
Crawford Street Cornbread Dressing
Ingredients for cornbread
•5 cups self-rising corn meal
•4 eggs, slightly beaten
•2 ½ to 3 cups milk
•1/3 cup vegetable oil
Combine ingredients into a well-greased pan and bake at 375 degrees until brown. Let cool and then crumble.
Ingredients for sauté mix
•1 ¼ sticks of margarine
•5 cups chopped onions
•4 cups chopped celery
Combine crumbled cornbread, one loaf of slightly toasted and crumbled sliced white bread, and the sauté mix.
•1 loaf white bread
•10-12 cups chicken broth
•10 medium eggs
•2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
•1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
•2 teaspoons salt
Beat 10 medium eggs and add to the bread/sauté mixture, mixing lightly. Add seasonings and chicken broth or stock.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until set. Remove the cover for the last 30 minutes of baking to brown the dressing. If the dressing does not seem done in the middle, it can be stirred slightly.
Holy Trinity Cornbread Dressing
•2 onions, chopped
•1 bunch celery, chopped
•1 stick butter
•10 cups crumbled cornbread
•4 cups chicken broth
•2 eggs, beaten
•2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
•2 teaspoons black pepper
•½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté onions and celery in butter. Mix in with crumbled cornbread. Add remaining ingredients. Place in a 9×13 greased pan and bake for 45 minutes or until hot all the way through.
Makes 12 servings.
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