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Both holiday staples, stuffing and dressing have their origins in the Middle Ages, when cooks stuffed a fowl’s body cavity with a mixture of meat and bread. One assumes this is because it helped extend the meal and required only one hearth fire to cook it.
The dish evolved over the years and came to America with the first settlers. As the Southeastern U.S. began to be more populated and cornbread rose to prominence there, that quick bread became the basis of stuffing in that region. As time went on, cooks discovered the stuffing actually cooked more evenly and tasted better when baked in a separate pan, and not inside the turkey or goose. Thus, cornbread dressing was born.
Every Southern family has a recipe, or two, or three, for cornbread dressing. Some versions call for rice, some for sausage or oysters, and some for chicken, making that ever-popular church potluck dish, chicken and dressing. Dressing is as varied as the cooks who make it, and most Southerners prefer their mama’s cornbread dressing to anyone else’s.
Cornbread dressing starts with, of course, a pan of cornbread. This cornbread should be baked using at least four eggs, rather than the two normally used. This makes for a higher-rising pone, and higher yield. Most cooks also include a few slices of white bread or leftover biscuits, which help bind the mixture.
Chicken or turkey broth (about 1 cup) is then added to the bread mixture and it is set aside. The process of sautéing chopped onions and celery together is recently popular, but this does help develop their flavors, and guards against biting into a large piece of raw onion in the cooked dressing. Fresh chopped herbs such as sage and thyme may be added, although their dried counterparts are also acceptable, along with poultry seasoning. Another recent, but welcome addition, is one or two cans of cream of chicken soup. This helps make the dressing creamy and helps it “set” nicely. The soup is added to the onion mixture, along with a can of water, and stirred until it bubbles.
The soup mixture and more broth are added to the cornbread mixture and stirred in until fully incorporated. At that point, the cook begins the real process of seasoning the dressing, and there are no right or wrong answers. It all depends on the cook and what the family likes. Some good add-ins include salt, black pepper, a dash of cayenne or hot sauce, garlic, marjoram, basil, celery seed, savory, more sage and/or thyme, if necessary, and anything else the family prefers. Some cooks add chopped hardboiled eggs to their dressing.
When the dressing tastes “right,” two eggs are broken into the mixture and stirred in. The cornbread dressing is then poured into pans and cooked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) until golden brown.
Cornbread dressing is an obviously rich and calorie-laden dish, which is why it is generally reserved for holidays or other special occasions. However, most families look forward eagerly to the moment when the dressing comes out of the oven and is ready to be served. Some Southerners say the cornbread dressing, in fact, is the best part of the turkey.
As I ate my delicious "chicken and dressing" while reading this article, I thought it would be nice to add a native southerner's recipe (a family recipe that my great grandmother used). However, it has been tweaked over the years and satisfies both stuffing and dressing lovers.
"Chicken and Dressing" (Circa 1911)
One hen (A pack of boneless chicken breast is now used.)
Rinse chicken and place into a dutch oven filled 3/4 full with water.
Add seasonings to make broth while bringing chicken to a boil.
Broth Seasoning: Ground black pepper, one clove garlic or tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 cup chopped onion or tsp. onion powder, 1/4 tsp. sage, one bay leaf, one tsp. poultry seasoning, and
one tbsp. butter or margarine. Tsp. salt (optional)
Once chicken has reached a boil, reduce heat to med-high and cover 3/4 for approximately one hour or until chicken falls apart at the touch.
While chicken is cooking, begin making cornbread. Martha White Self-Rising Corn Meal is best. In a large mixing bowl, add two cups of meal, four eggs, 1/4 c. Canola oil, and enough buttermilk until mixture is rather thin. Once all ingredients have been thoroughly blended, the consistency should be similar to thin pancake batter. Pour mixture into one greased, large or medium cast iron skillet. Cast iron ONLY! It truly makes a difference in the taste and quality of the cornbread. Place into a preheated oven at 400 degrees F until bread has risen to a nice, golden brown.
While the chicken and bread are cooking, boil four to five eggs for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool until the remaining ingredients have finished cooking. *Note* Drain hot water from boiled eggs after cooking, crack the shell of each, and refill boiler with warm water. The shell will be easy to remove.
Meanwhile, you'll need a large mixing bowl for the remaining ingredients: One or two boxes of chicken flavored Stove Top Stuffing, one whole onion chopped, tsp. sage, two tsp. poultry seasoning, tsp. garlic pepper seasoning, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, tsp. pimento (optional), one 16 to 24 oz. container chicken broth, two 12 oz. cans cream of chicken, and one 12 oz. can cream of celery. Mix ingredients.
Add all chopped boiled eggs to mixture.
Slice and crumble entire pan of cornbread and add to mixture.
Finally, remove chicken from broth. Shred and add to dressing mixture.
Strain broth into dressing mixture. Discard broth remnants.
Mix thoroughly. Mixture should be quite thin, similar to the consistency of the cornbread mixture. Add canned broth to reach desired consistency.
Grease two oblong pans and add mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for one to two hours or until done. Dressing should be golden in color when done.
Note: The tweaking is quite obvious, as boxed stuffing mix and creamed soups were not in the original recipe. Also, there are no measurements in the original, as most southern women measured by hand, as do I. However, measurements can be adjusted to suit your tastes.
Have a great holiday season!
I've been eating and making dressing for many many years, and this addition of the egg to cornbread dressing is something I have only recently heard of. Does anyone know what region this recipe originated? (I'm from Central Kentucky and it's a foreign concept to most of us here) Very interesting article by the way. Thanks for sharing.
I have been making this for almost 45 years. In the past few years I couldn't be asked to do all the seasonings chopping and so forth...I found by adding a couple of packets of stuffing mix...sage type..puts all these flavors into the dressing and saves on a lot of time. I just pop in 2 pks during the final mix before adding the final liquid. Works a treat and can't really tell the difference at all except less time to prepare the same thing.
I now live in UK and found the Brits love it as much as I do. They had not heard of dressing till I introduced it to them..they use stuffing balls made from packets. Now it's 'you going to make your dressing this year?' lol I'll make yanks out of them yet. :)
Thank you for this info. I have recently wondered what was the difference. I myself have been born in the midwest, but I have a mother from the south and most of my family have always enjoyed dressing, cornbread dressing for years. I had started to wonder origin, since living up north, people also seemed to love stuffing (cubed bread dressing) why is there a difference. I started to wonder about the origin and while I knew it seemed like it's a regional thing, I also was not sure if it was an ethnic thing. It now seems like it's a regional thing. I will always love corn bread dressing for its texture and heartiness. Thanks again.
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