The frozen bananas on a stick were the straw that broke my pre-pubescent back. After sharing several Thanksgiving meals over the years with family friends, I’d resigned myself to celebrating with dehydrated potatoes whipped up from a box and various side dishes poured from a can. But fruit masquerading as a dessert? This was too far for a kid whose mom made every dessert, right down to the piecrust, from scratch.
My siblings and I held up the dessert offered by our hosts, and giggled at the half-moons smothered in a shell formerly known as chocolate. One of us thought the shape bore an anatomical resemblance that made us blush. Another had never, and would never, touch a banana, even if it was disguised as a popsicle.
I politely bit into the frozen top, and set the banana back on my plate. We kids, for whom dessert was the crowing jewel of a meal, looked bewildered, and glanced around as if a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies might arrive imminently and save us.
The bananas melted into thick puddles on small plates as, one by one, we set them down and became far more interested in refilling our water cups and fighting over who deserved the next turn with the Lite Brite. When we piled into the car for the drive home, I’m certain visions of blonde brownies danced in my head.
The memories of gravy stirred from a packet, potatoes whipped from a box, and frozen bananas poised on sticks still linger in my mind when Thanksgiving approaches on the calendar. I remember them with a fondness now, appreciating their simplicity and their utter lack of pretense. I remember them for the way they spoke of the generosity of our hostess who worked long hours, raised her children, and yet still found the time to invite our transplanted family over for dinner. Our extended family lived 24 hours south of us, and friends kindly invited us to swing our legs under their table.
Other memories of the Thanksgiving table accompany these, of course. Most of my memories were made at our own dining room table—my mother’s Thanksgiving meals are Rockwellian. Roasted turkey, thick homemade gravy, and her famous cornbread dressing. She too worked long office hours. She too raised a family. She too gives generously to those she gathers.
In my own holiday kitchen, I fall between these two extremes of generous hospitality. I’ve attempted to pass off a jar of pre-made gravy as homemade, although I may be the only one I was fooling. However, my husband roasts our holiday turkey every year, concocting his own brine and rub, using a “proprietary” blend of seventeen herbs and spices. Delicious? Yes. Overkill? Definitely. I’ve been known to use a pre-made pie crust, while my mom painstakingly smooths her crust out in a cloud of flour with a wooden roller.
We each have something to offer, and no two tables will look alike. My mom pours her love into platters and pie tins. The hostess of my youth poured her love into creating space for little clean-up and un-hurried conversation. I pour mine into the atmosphere of my home with flickering candles and mismatched dishes. There is no wrong way to invite others to sit at your table when it is set with sincere hands and generosity of spirit.
Now, our holiday meals are a hodge-podge from various kitchens. Our roots are spreading, as our family has grown, from three children to eleven grandchildren, and we’re trying to preserve some of our (banana-less) childhood memories. My mom passed her recipe for cornbread dressing on to the rest of us, and after making it exactly one time, I realized I’m not cut out for that kind of effort in the kitchen. My sister and my mom take turns with the pleasure and pain of providing it for our Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re looking for rave reviews on an old southern staple, this recipe will be at home in your kitchen.
- 5 ½ cups of cornbread (cornbread recipe below is the exact amount you need)
- 2 slices of white bread
- ¾ cup chopped onion
- ½ cup of chopped celery
- 1 ½ slightly beaten eggs (beat one at a time as to half one of them)
- Thyme and Parsley to taste
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter (¼ for sautee and ¼ for dressing)
- 2 cups boiled chicken breast shredded
- Boil chicken in 10 cups of water.
- Reserve broth from chicken for later use.
- Sautee Onions and clery in ¼ cup of butter.
- Crumble breads in bowl and add ¼ cup melted butter and all other ingredients.
- Add broth to mixture until very mushy. This will take most of the broth, if not all.
- Place in rectangular greased pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for approximately 45 mins.
- Stir while cooking at least once.
- If dry when done, stir in a little remaining broth.
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 4tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1tsp sugar
- 1 slightly beaten egg
- 1 cup milk
- 2 Tbsp melted shortening or butter
- Melt shortening/butter in heavy skillet.
- Sift dry ingredients into bowl.
- Add the egg and milk and mix well.
- Pour into the same skillet and stir again to mix the shortening/butter in with the batter.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 25 mins.