GUIZERIX: Thankful for Dressing, not Stuffing, and those who taught me the difference

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

As we get older, holidays tend to lose the “magic” about which we often reminisce.

Our loved ones pass on, the circle around the table seems smaller and there’s always a recipe that doesn’t taste quite as good as when your Granny or your mother or your favorite aunt made it herself. Such is the case in our household.

My maternal grandmother, Sandra Gus Gibson (whom I called Nanny), was a complex woman with many faults, but I loved her and she loved me. She loved me enough, in fact, that she took me under her wing each Thanksgiving as her own “dressing assistant.”

To this day, my Nanny’s cornbread dressing is the best I’ve had. The recipe wasn’t written down on a notecard or in a dogeared cookbook, but instead came from within, a ritualistic movement by which she greased the skillet with Crisco, mashed a single boiled egg into a paste (“It’s to help it stick together,” she’d say) and season liberally with, well… if I told y’all everything I’d have to kill you.

The key to good dressing is the base: a delectable cornbread. My apologies to Martha White and Jiffy, but a boxed mix won’t do here. Neither will stone-ground cornmeal. You need the fine stuff, powdered to perfection. You also need to cook your onions and thin-sliced celery in bacon grease. If you weren’t raised right and don’t have a jar of bacon grease at your disposal, I suppose real butter will do the trick.

You also must let the ingredients cool, at least a little, prior to mixing them. It’s a step many people miss out on, and it can mean the difference between a dry dressing (what I like to call sawdust soufflé), or a moist, savory concoction that really only tastes best on Thanksgiving Day.

If the dressing seems a little dry, don’t be shy about adding some chicken broth, or if you’re really brave, a dollop or two of mayonnaise. Let’s hope that suggestion doesn’t illicit any angry phone calls from dressing purists.

It’s imperative that you place your dressing mixture in a large dish to bake — separate from the turkey. Once it goes into the turkey, it’s stuffing. And it loses so much of the flavor control and the crispness-to-moisture ratio we’ve come to love about dressing. Stuffing is to dressing what a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie is to an Italian Cream Cake from Walnut Hills. Both are good enough, but only one will bring you back for a second helping.

Above all else, prepare your dressing with the people you love. The same goes for any other recipe — to you, it might seem like any other day, or it might be boring to sit in the kitchen while everyone else chops and tastes and plates. But one day, you’ll look back and wish you’d taken the time to soak in the magic, and you’ll realize: the magic lies in the power of loved ones coming together while they still can.