My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley
Mama liked cornbread dressing (sometimes called “stuffing” by folks who don’t know better), and she made it often. Where she got her recipe, I’m unsure. The one thing I’m certain of–it called for sage, and plenty of it. That herb was so overpowering in the finished product that you could feel the fumes in your nose. Normally a big eater, I always got light helpings of that dish.
Mama herself was never fully satisfied, and always seemed surprised when her dressing didn’t measure up. She would taste and sniff and poke. Finally, she would declare, “It needs more sage.”
I don’t recall anybody complaining. Daddy got an A for cheerfully eating whatever you put before him. And one thing us Junkins kids learned early was to refrain from badmouthing the food on the table. Any griping was sure to be met with the advice, “Don’t eat, if you don’t like it. You might like it better next meal.” This was a pretty good bet since there was no junk food or snack items in our house. Not ever. You’d be amazed what you can eat when you are REALLY hungry.
So next time Mama made dressing, she would dip more heavily into the sage box. Finally, I think she pretty much poured in the entire box. You could SEE the sage flecks in the mix. It grew so strong that our dog Brownie, who until sixteen or so survived off leftovers supplemented with whatever wildlife he could run down, would turn up his nose at the chunks of dressing.
Fortunately, Mama usually assigned throwing out scraps to one of us kids, so she probably never saw the growing pile of dressing down the hill from the outhouse. She never learned of Brown’s betrayal.
Years passed. I married a man whose mother was one of the South’s great cooks. You name it–that woman could cook it. Chicken pie, fresh coconut cake, corn pudding, squash casserole. To be fair, she had been able to be a stay-at-home wife, and all her married life she had owned a mixer, measuring cups and spoons, baking pans, casserole dishes and all the other necessities for the kitchen. But, then, dressing didn’t require any of these, and hers was the best I’d ever put in my mouth. I didn’t pass along my opinion to my mother, who would have resented the implied comparison.
Then one year Mama and Daddy came for Thanksgiving and Mama Gibbons prepared the dressing with giblet gravy. Mama served herself a generous helping of dressing and gravy and then went back for seconds. At last she turned to my mother-n-law and asked, “How do you make your dressing?”
Mama Gibbons was happy to oblige, listing the amount of crumbled cornbread, biscuit, and white bread slices she used, the amount of chopped celery, green onions, pimento, eggs, and broth needed, the amount of garlic salt, pepper needed for seasoning.
It was only after the meal when we were alone in the kitchen that Mama looked at the scant remains in the dressing pan and sniffed. “I think it could use some sage.”