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Meemaw's Turkey Dressing
The star of the holiday meal. (Vol. 2; Issue 19)
Welcome aboard The Bus!
Today’s Stop is only the second recipe at which the Bus has stopped,but as the holiday season inexorably approaches, I decided to share my paternal grandmother’s recipe for turkey dressing. Meemaw was an exceptional Southern cook in the truest - traditional - sense: big flavour, lots of food and absolutely unafraid of salt, sugar and fat. Holiday dinners were enormous affairs - numerous casseroles, corned ham, roast ham, turkey, multiple cakes and pies - and this dish had been a family favourite long before I arrived on the scene. As its preparation is a time-consuming labour of love, it appeared only twice a year - at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. The recipe for the dish is not one in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, it’s a set of steps, suggestions and assumptions passed from one family member to another. I’ve standardised it to make it as clear as possible, but in the end it’s all down to the individual cook’s taste - and that’s as varied in number as there are cooks.
Meemaw’s Turkey Dressing
Step 1: Bake a batch of buttermilk biscuits.
3 cups all-purpose white flour
2 Tbs baking powder
1 Tsp salt
1/2 cup (115g) butter - at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup soured cream
Preheat the oven to 450F/230C.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and cut in the softened butter.
Add both milks and the soured cream; mix until the dough comes away from the bowl.
Roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter.
Continue to roll and cut until the dough is completely used.
Bake for about 10 minutes until the biscuits have risen and are lightly browned on top.
Remove the biscuits from the baking tray and cool on a wire rack.
Step 2: Make the stock.
2 turkey wings
2 turkey thighs
1 turkey leg
1 large onion, cut in half
3 celery stalks, cut into thirds
Combine all of the ingredients in a large stockpot, cover generously with water (at least two inches above the ingredients - more is fine) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until all the meat is cooked - about 45-60 minutes.
When cooked, remove the meat with a slotted spoon and cool until the meat can be cut off the bones and chopped into small pieces (diced) for inclusion into the dressing. Set aside.
With a slotted spoon, remove and discard the onion and celery stalks. Set aside the stock for later - most will be added to the dressing, but any extra can be used to make gravy.
Step 3: Prepare additional ingredients.
3 cups chopped celery
3 cups chopped onion
3 Tbs butter
6 large eggs
Sauté the onions and celery together in the butter over medium heat until they are soft. Set aside.
Meanwhile, hard boil the eggs. Once cooled, peel and chop into small pieces - the size you would use to make egg salad/egg mayonnaise. Set aside.
Step 3: Assemble the dressing.
2 x 10-ounce bags (or the equivalent) of a store-bought organic savoury herb stuffing
7 cups of the turkey stock
All of the previously chopped celery, onions and eggs
In a large container or oversized bowl (look at the amount you have to mix and judge its size accordingly), crumble 8 of the buttermilk biscuitsand mix in the bags of herb stuffing.
Add the stock to the crumb mixture and stir well to combine.
Once mixed to your satisfaction, add the chopped celery, onions and eggs and mix well.
Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.
Add dried or rubbed sage to the mixture, mix well and taste again. Continue to adjust seasoning and sage until you're happy with the flavour.
Step 4: Fill the dish and bake.
Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C
Thoroughly grease a 9x13 casserole/baking dish with butter.
Dampen a hand and use it to scoop handfuls of the dressing into the dish. Use a light touch to ensure it’s not tightly packed. The dish should be completely full to the top, with the mixture packed lightly enough to allow air pockets. Do not pack it down. If you have extra, put it in another dish - just don’t pack it down.
Bake the dressing for about 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
Today’s Detour is to a place about as far away from turkey dressing as you can go. It’s a short (1:32) video from MBARI - Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute - featuring the psychedelic jelly: a newly-discovered jellyfish with remarkable colouration. A lovely, hypnotic video that I wish was much longer.
Today’s recommendation is the classic (and ubiquitous) film A Christmas Story (1983). Directed by Bob Clark and based on Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, it is the story of nine-year-old Ralphiewho desires one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model BB gun, despite being warned by everyone - his parents, his teacher, even the department store Santa - that ‘you’ll shoot your eye out.’ Told in a series of vignettes narrated by the adult Ralphie, the film has become a holiday classic - and one my brother and I watched on many Christmas mornings while Meemaw’s turkey dressing baked in the oven. I have no doubt it will be on TV at some point this Christmas … perhaps even on 24-hour repeat.
Today’s playlist is a compilation of five tracks my paternal grandfather loved. At least, they’re from performers and musicians he loved - because despite his best effort, I could never get into this style of music when I was young so I’ve had to make a guess based on memory. Nevertheless, I’m (much) older now and find these five create a lovely atmosphere: ‘In the Mood’ (Glenn Miller, 1938), ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ (The Andrews Sisters, 1941), ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’ (Johnny Mercer, The Pied Pipers, Paul Weston and His Orchestra, 1945), ‘It Had to Be You’ (Dinah Shore/André Previn, 1960), ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’ (Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, The Pied Pipers, 1940). Enjoy!
Today’s Thought is from the American poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou:
‘People will never forget how you made them feel.’
If you have a thought on this Thought - or any part of today’s issue - please leave a comment below:
And that’s the end of this stop - I hope you enjoyed the diversion!
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Until the next stop …
The first was ‘Brownies’ (Vol. 1; Issue 13 - 18 May 2022).
My brother and I called her Meemaw, and for the longest time - despite the fact that no one else called her that - I thought it was her real name. As there is only one photo I could find of the dressing - and it’s barely visible at a bottom corner - I decided to use a photo of Meemaw for today’s issue. It’s from 2005 when she was 88, taken for her church directory ten years before her death. Sources for this Stop include a rather loose recipe my mother recreated from notes she made over years of watching and helping Meemaw cook this dish. Meemaw herself never wrote it down and as this recipe was handed down to her from her mother, I guess it’s kind of in the family DNA. To my knowledge, it’s never been outside the family.
If you’re the type of cook who requires precision in your recipes, this one possibly isn’t for you (though it might be fun to just let go and give it a try).
This stand-alone biscuit recipe can be made anytime. They’re very easy and especially nice at breakfast with jam, marmalade, bacon, sausage patties, smoked salmon with dill sauce, or just butter.
Meemaw wouldn’t have taken these parts from the turkey she was roasting as it would have looked eaten before she placed it in the oven. Consequently, on some occasions she might have used a second, smaller turkey for this step - roasting the remainder later - or she might have used leftovers from Thanksgiving that she’d frozen for the purpose of creating the stock. At other times, she possibly used a chicken. The poultry source may vary, but it doesn’t matter to the recipe - and that’s because of the confident fluidity which defines Southern American cooking. The reason only one turkey leg is included is because she alone of the family liked the leg - so, there was always only one left behind!
Just make sure it’s cooked as while sushi is brilliant, turkey sushi is not - for many good reasons.
The organic option is relatively recent. The original notes call for a variety of different stuffing mixes with one by Pepperidge Farm being a firm favourite.
Save the rest to eat later. Or now, as dinner’s still a good way off.
Now, this is one of those typical Southern ‘eyeballing it’ things: you might need to use more or less of the stock as you mix towards the correct texture. In my experience, the stuffing crumb/biscuit mixture should be moist enough that if you scooped up a handful it would be very damp, but not fall apart.
Sage is a major component of this dish and it takes a good bit to get enough flavour. I’d start with two tablespoons and add incrementally from there.
At this point, the dressing can be frozen until needed. Just be sure to thaw it completely before baking.
Fun fact: Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley who is related by marriage to actress Barbara Billingsley who played June Cleaver in the television series Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963).