A big hearty hello to our dear Southern author, Gail Branan. Gail's book, fantasy romance, Miami Days and Truscan (K)nights, will be released in April 2012 by Muse It Up Publishing. Her recipe today comes from a dear friend. Enjoy this story about her friend and more information about her upcoming release.
Hey, y’all! I’m so pleased to be here today on J. Q. Rose’s Good Eats, Great Reads. Janet, thanks for having me.
Some of you have visited my blog, Flowers on the Fence, and know that it’s the place where I collect very special people and very special memories. Today, even though I’m on J. Q. Rose’s blog, I’m also collecting and sharing a very special flower as I share her recipe for Southern Cornbread Dressing – Mrs. Emma Richardson.
Miss Emma – and please be advised that in the South, all ladies not your mother or your aunt who are some years older than you are addressed as “Miss”, just as all men not your Daddy or your uncle who are some years older than you are addressed as “Mr.” – was the office mother of the Macon, Georgia law firm of Jones, Cork & Miller LLP.
When I first met Miss Emma, she was a very young and spry 74. In fact, she drove a stick shift and listened to a rock station on the radio. The reason I remember her age so clearly is because the next year I helped spearhead a special birthday celebration for her 75th birthday. As I did for her 85th. And her 90th. And her 91st. At every one of those birthday celebrations, I gave the same toast, a quote from the Wizard of Oz to the Tin Man. I still think that quote describes Miss Emma like no other. “Hearts are not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”
Miss Emma was a sheer delight. A true Southern lady, she had a strict work ethic, a heart that encompassed the world but especially embraced every person who ever set foot through the JCM doors, whether attorney, bookkeeping staff, paralegal, secretary, law clerk, receptionist, runner, copy clerk. She also especially embraced every member of Mulberry Street Methodist Church. JCM’s a big firm, and Mulberry Methodist is a big Church, but trust me, her heart was big enough to hold all of us and have plenty of room for newcomers.
Very simply, she loved us.
Not one for excess sentimentality, she showed her love in concrete ways. I think most women show their love through their cooking. And believe me when I tell you this – Miss Emma could cook. The break room was fragrant with the smells of fresh baking more mornings than not. You were never certain what might greet you when you went for your coffee. Her pound cakes were legendary. I can still smell the long pans of peach cobbler, baked that morning and still streaming steam. Even if no fresh-baked offering appeared in the morning, it was possible that an afternoon visit for fresh coffee would reveal a block of cream cheese standing by a plate of crackers and an open jar of her homemade green pepper jelly.
She retired from the firm several times during the years, but she always came back. Not for full duty, of course, and she made her own hours. Her true job description was “Heart of Jones, Cork & Miller” and she remained so even after she retired for the last time at 91. Still in good health and perfect mind, she’d suffered an episode that was probably the beginning of the end, and served as the impetus for her decision, “I choose to drive no more.”
A broken hip two years later necessitated a spell in a nursing/rehabilitation facility and we snapped candid pictures of each other all over the office and mounted them for her on a large poster board. That picture poster was buried with her when she died at 93.
She’d collected her recipes years before into a big black notebook, divided into categories by divider tabs, and she was always first recipe book of choice for any of us searching for a new recipe for anything. My friend Melody Lord made a copy of that notebook to keep at the firm, as well as one for herself and one for me. Melody made a copy of her copy and gave it to my daughter as a wedding present. She inscribed it “From Melody and Miss Emma. She’d want you to have it.”
Mulberry Street Methodist had the recipes printed in a book and sold them with proceeds going to one of Miss Emma’s special Church projects, but Melody and I prefer our own copies of the original wherein we can still see the notes in her own handwriting: “Very good”; “Bake at 425 instead of 400”; “Add ½ cup of butter rather than ¼”.
And so without further ado, because I get teary-eyed when I remember Miss Emma, I present Miss Emma’s Southern Cornbread Dressing, which is the only dressing I make for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
SOUTHERN CORNBREAD DRESSING
(With Turkey or Hen) – Serves about 8
2 cups crumbled stale cornbread
2 to 2-1/2 cups crumbled dry white bread (such as leftover biscuits or rolls – biscuits are better)
1 onion chopped fine
2 or 3 stalks of celery chopped fine (about ½ to ¾ cup)
½ stick melted butter or margarine
3 eggs, beaten slightly
4 to 5 cups turkey or chicken stock (after skimming off the grease –see note below)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1-1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
(**Gail’s addition: 1 ½ tsp. sage)
Preheat oven to 425. Mix breads, stock, beaten eggs and seasonings. In the meantime, in a shallow frying pan, melt the butter/margarine and partially cook the onion and celery till it is just limp; then add the whole bit to the first mixture and stir well. This should be soft and runny, about the consistency of cake batter or very thick soup – this is the secret of good dressing, as it will dry out as it cooks. After you make this a few times, you will be able to tell about the consistency. Use a shallow pan for baking – a 9 x 13 size, or two smaller sizes – as this should be a rather thin layer. I grease the pan with butter first. After about 15 to 20 minutes, I take a cooking fork and run through it and sort of stir it up and then let it continue baking about another 15 to 20 minutes. Or, you can leave it alone and let it bake smooth – then cut into squares. Of course, you must have giblet gravy with this. If you don’t know how to do that, I will be glad to tell you if you will give me a call.
(Note from Gail: That’s Miss Emma talkin’, not me. I’m not chopping and boiling giblets and have not a clue how to make giblet gravy. The store-bought turkey gravy works just fine for me. Though in all honesty, this dressing, done properly, doesn’t need gravy as it’s super moist all by itself. Now back to Miss Emma. The tip given below finally made me realize why I always got sick as a dog off my mother’s dressing during the Holidays.)
NOTE: As to the stock, I always pour the stock up after baking a turkey or after cooking the giblets (neck, gizzard, heart and liver) and let it get cold in the refrigerator and remove the fat from the top. Then I put that in the freezer to save to make dressing and gravy the next time I bake a turkey. Otherwise, you have the problem of baking your turkey ahead of time and not having time to prepare the stock. It really is too greasy if you don’t remove the fat.
(Note from Gail: Cans of chicken broth work well also. Because believe it or not, as un-American as it sounds, I detest turkey and while I give in and cook them for Thanksgiving, I hold out for ham on Christmas – also wonderful with dressing – and I’m not pouring up and straining turkey broth!)
For Oyster Dressing: Simply add up to a cup of chopped oysters to the batter before baking.
If you don’t mind eating dressing and gravy two times in a row, it’s nice to bake only half of the above and put the balance in the refrigerator and bake it fresh the next day. Or you can half the whole thing to begin with.
(Note from Gail: Or in the case of my family, you can double it.)
And now about that new book?
Everybody's wanted to fly over the rainbow sometime or other in their life, right? Though probably not by flying through the Bermuda Triangle. But Tess Ames, who’s the personal troubleshooter of the CEO of Miami based Ramos International, does exactly that on her way to Jamaica to serve as corporate hostess at one of the corporation’s big parties. Her double Masters Degrees in Marketing and Finance aren’t a lot of preparation for the world she discovers. Magic, omens, portents and power stones weren’t discussed much in her graduate classes. But Tess is nothing if not versatile. She’s going to give it her best shot. The first sight of that Truscan king would give any woman incentive. But trust me – she ain’t in Kansas anymore.