Sometime in September my mom would pull the old cast iron skillets from the pantry. A deep black coating from years of making cornbread made a surface that even Teflon could not match. The process was a labor of love as the golden brown pones would be carefully wrapped in aluminum foil, stuffed in a plastic zip lock bag, and placed in the freezer. Oh, we did enjoy some of the bread at dinner time, but for the most part the larger portions had a higher purpose, cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom’s dressing was a staple at all of our holiday gatherings. Its production was a multiple step process that wasn’t written down. When asked, my mom would smile and say “I just make it.” Believe me I have looked though all of her note cards, hand written pages, and dog eared cookbooks for that recipe.
In the weeks that followed, there was the scouring of the grocery store flyers for the best prices on spices and ingredients needed to complete the process; stalks of celery, baking hens, black pepper, sage and more, were purchased and stocked in the kitchen. Nothing came from cans in those days, well except for the cranberry sauce. Green beans from mason jars made the casserole, chicken stock rendered from the hens provided the moisture and flavor for the various other dishes and of course the dressing. My dad and I watched the process while sneaking a piece of chicken or a wayward stalk of celery to munch on, only to be shooed out of the kitchen. “Don’t ya’ll have anything better to do?” she would ask, her hands crumbling the cornbread into the enameled blue speckled oven pans. “I will call you in plenty of time to fix your plate.”
“Come fix your plate” was the eagerly awaited call from the kitchen. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins would surround the table’s bounty and at the center was Mattie Lou’s dressing. They all called my mom Mattie Lou (Southern pronunciation is Mata’ Lu) or Ms. Mattie. The accolades would soon follow; “I look forward to this every year”, “The dressing is wonderful “, and my mom would smile and say “There’s plenty to go around and some for all of you to take home.”
I know every family has its cooks, their special dishes, and traditions. I wanted to share mine with you in hope that you will recall those special family moments from your past, or perhaps you have some that still continue every holiday season. Whatever the case may be, cherish them.
By the way, I still have those skillets and she did teach me how she made the cornbread. I just have to create the recipe for the dressing from those memories.
Merry Christmas Ya’ll !