Before I married Phillip, my world contained one type of dressing for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner: cornbread. My mother was born and raised in Savannah, GA, and then she and my father (also a Southerner) ended up raising my sisters and me in Texas. In my experience, no other type of dressing than cornbread existed, and no other type of dressing need exist. No matter at whose house we ate Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, no matter who was in charge of preparing the dressing, we knew we would be served cornbread dressing for dinner. Why should the case be any different? What can be more delicious than cornbread dressing, all moist and flavorful, and covered with rich giblet gravy? My Thanksgiving dressing horizon broadened a bit when I ate dinner with Phillip’s family the first Thanksgiving after we began dating. I was shocked – SHOCKED – and dismayed to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner at which my beloved, traditional cornbread dressing was missing, and in its place was oyster dressing! Even if I were a seafood lover (which I decidedly am not), I would have rebelled at the notion of anyone making oysters the prominent ingredient in dressing. In fact, the oysters were not the only problem with the dressing; it was made with white bread! Simply white bread! Clearly Phillip’s Yankee roots were shining through his family’s tradition of serving oyster dressing for Thanksgiving dinner.
The first Thanksgiving to ourselves after we married, we had to face the great dressing divide. Phillip must have his traditional oyster dressing, but I must have my traditional cornbread dressing. It was settled that year by that fact that I was cooking dinner while he worked, so naturally I chose to make cornbread dressing! The ensuing years in which we spent a portion of Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I would make a batch of cornbread dressing to be served in addition to the oyster dressing my mother-in-law made. In the years we hosted Thanksgiving dinner in our home, I would occasionally – but not always – make oyster dressing to be served along with cornbread dressing. NEVER, though, did I allow the turkey to be stuffed with the oyster dressing. I would not allow such a desecration of the turkey whose life had been sacrificed to help us celebrate such a solemn occasion as the thanksgiving for all our many blessings. Eventually cornbread dressing won the day in our home and it is now the only dressing we serve for Thanksgiving dinner.
The cornbread stuffing we eat now, however, is not the cornbread dressing my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother prepared for generations. One year, when our children were young, I discovered a recipe for cornbread dressing with apples and sausage as ingredients. Learning about the existence of oyster dressing opened my mind to the possibilities of other variations of dressing (although my mind remains closed to any variation that omits cornbread!). The addition of apples and sausage to the cornbread dressing appealed to my senses. The dressing of my childhood always included onion, broth (chicken or turkey), celery, eggs, and poultry herbs: simple, but savory, delicious, and comforting. The dressing I make now includes many identical ingredients, but the apples make it sweet as well as savory. It’s a recipe that is easily deglutenized, so when I was diagnosed with Celiac I didn’t have to change much to keep serving the cornbread dressing to which my family had become accustomed.
When I make cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving, I always use McIntosh apples. Unlike most other varieties of apples in the grocery store (at least in the grocery stores in Central and South Texas), McIntosh apples are available only in autumn. These apples are the only apples that actually smell and taste like apples. Most of the other types of apples available all year long have little flavor or scent. Moreover, with their classic red and green coloring, and round shape, McIntosh apples are more attractive than other grocery store apple varieties. Because they are a seasonal autumnal fruit, McIntosh apples are the perfect accompaniment of autumn dishes.
Although I did take photographs of during the process of making the cornbread dressing, I did not get pictures of the finished product sitting splendidly on a plate, with streams of luscious gravy dripping down the side. Our daughter hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her home this year, and without going into too much detail, I am sad to report that we lost a couple of our Thanksgiving dishes to a small kitchen fire that originated in the oven broiler. We managed to put out the quite aggressive fire, but as the confusion and commotion it caused receded and we settled at the table to enjoy the dishes that had been preserved, we simply neglected to photograph our food. Thankfully no one was hurt, no real damage occurred, and the dressing was one of the dishes we managed to preserve!
Gluten-Free Apple-Sausage Cornbread Dressing
125 g corn meal
100 g tapioca starch
25 g coconut flour
1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1 tbls + 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped and sauteed
1 medium McIntosh (or other sweet variety) apple, seeded, and finely chopped*
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 lb Jimmy Dean’s natural, gluten-free sausage, browned and crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbls fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbls fresh sage, chopped**
1 – 3 cups chicken broth
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, cut in small pieces
*The apples can be either peeled or left unpeeled. I prefer to leave the peels on, for added color and nutrients.
**1 tbls of dried poultry seasoning can be substituted for the fresh herbs
For the cornbread:
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Butter an 8 x 8 square baking dish
-Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
-beat the eggs and milk together; add mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix until well blended.
-Add the melted butter to the batter; mix well.
-Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
-Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a tooth pick inserted into the middle comes out
-Cool on a rack before using for dressing.
For the dressing:
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
-Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan.
-In a pan, sautee the chopped onion until translucent; remove from pan
-Brown and crumble the sausage, using the same pan in which the onion was cooked.
-Spoon the cooled cornbread into a large bowl; using a large spoon, crumble the cornbread so that it’s mostly crumbs.
-Add the cooked sausage, sauteed onion, chopped apple, chopped pecans, and seasonings.
-Add one cup of chicken broth. Mix well.
-Add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dressing reaches the desired consistency (very moist, but not falling apart).
-Cover dish with foil; place in the oven and bake for thirty minutes.
-Remove the foil from the dish and continue baking until the top of the dressing is becoming brown and a little crusty
(about 15 minutes).
*If you wish to stuff your turkey with some of the dressing, spoon the dressing into the turkey cavity at this point, then spoon the rest into the prepared dish and continue with the recipe instructions. Remember to loosely spoon dressing into a turkey. Never pack it into the cavity.