I can tell when duck season is about to start because Jason starts to crave a big duck dinner. He will talk about it for a week or more before he actually decides to cook one. It wasn’t long after Christmas that Jason pulled a duck out of the freezer and asked me to make some cornbread. I thought, after having my dressing at Thanksgiving, Christmas and as leftovers, Jason might be tired of it, but I was pleasantly surprised.
|Jason Kirk taught Rolley Len, pictured, how to wash and tear the greens.|
In the past, Jason has made duck dressing using Tumpsie Trionne’s recipe, but he wanted to use my dressing recipe this time to see if it would go well with the duck.
Like many grandmas, my dad’s mother Robbie Rhodes had her own special secret recipe for her dressing. She did not share the recipe with anyone for a very long time. When she finally told my mother how to make it, my mother swore that something was either left out or changed from the original. One year I remember hearing my mom exclaim, "It’s mayonnaise!" Grandma Rhodes used Hellmann’s in the cornbread.
When Grandma was in her late 80s, she moved from Anniston to Huntsville - eventually moving in with my parents for her remaining years. She gave my parents instructions on how to make the dressing for the holidays. Every year, my parents followed her instructions, but when they tried to recreate it, it was never quite right. Even the smells at Thanksgiving were not the same as when Grandma made the dressing at her house. My parents tried and tried to figure out what else was supposed to be in the dressing, or what they were doing wrong, to no avail.
As they made the dressing, they adjusted and tasted the recipe … too much pepper, not enough salt, too much celery. Finally they stopped trying and put Grandma Rhodes back to work in the kitchen. My father’s job had always been to chop the onions for the dressing so he was usually around when the dressing was made, but he had never paid attention to everything she put in the mix. Since my grandmother was elderly, Mom and Dad stayed in the kitchen with her to make sure they could help her if she needed it.
Being able to actually watch Grandma Rhodes in the process several times meant my parents were able to learn the entire recipe. My mother wrote it down and also submitted it for a cookbook put together by her work. Mom gave both my sister and me copies of the cookbook when it came out in 2002, but it was many years later before I was brave enough to try to make the recipe. How could I try to reproduce a taste we all considered a family tradition? Even the smell had to be right.
In 2012, I had finally tried to make my grandmother’s dressing for Thanksgiving. I doubled the recipe, but my pan was too shallow. The dressing stayed in, but the butter oozed over the sides and caught fire in the oven. Luckily, I didn’t ruin the dressing when I extinguished the fire. It tasted pretty good, but I think the whole situation with almost burning the house down made it less special for me. So, I made it again at Christmas for my family and again this past Thanksgiving and Christmas. Apparently the keys to getting a family recipe right are trial and error, and family input. This Christmas, my parents and sister all said it was like Grandma Rhodes’, which was the best compliment I could have gotten. So in my cookbook, I added the exact measurements and amounts of the ingredients so I can make it exactly the same every time. It can be tricky to follow in your family cook’s footsteps if they never use measurements, but it can be done.
Since duck is not my favorite entree, I think Jason puts off making it until he knows there will be family or friends around who appreciate it as much as he does. Some family friends were visiting from out of town this winter, so it was the perfect time for him to try a new version of duck ’n’ dressing.
When Jason asked me to make the cornbread for the dressing, I had to ask myself why we didn’t make the dressing more often since we love it so much. The answer is because part of it being special is that it was only served at certain times of the year. Special family recipes shouldn’t be just for special occasions.
For your next meal, fill your home with the smells of food from your childhood. Spend some quality time with your family and try to recreate the warm feelings you had when you walked into your grandparent’s home during the holidays so you can experience them all year.
|Duck ’n’ Dressing|
ROBBIE'S DRESSING CORNBREAD
1 cup plain yellow cornmeal
Dab of flour, about 3 teaspoons
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s)
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients. Pour into a greased pan and bake until done (15-20 minutes). Allow to cool. Can be made a day ahead if necessary.
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
2 cups chicken broth
4 Tablespoons butter (divided)
½ Tablespoon salt or to taste
¼ Tablespoon pepper or to taste
1 large onion, finely grated
In a large bowl, crumble cornbread until it is a fine texture. Add soups and broth. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add to mixture. Add salt and pepper, onion and eggs. Mix well. Melt remaining butter in a deep baking dish. Pour dressing mixture into baking dish. Bake at 450° for approximately 45 minutes. Shake or stir occasionally throughout the cooking. Do not overcook.
This recipe can be doubled for larger groups. Just double the baking time as well and stir or shake the dressing so it will cook consistently. Keep a close eye on it to make sure it does not overcook
DUCK PREPARATION FOR DRESSING
Take two dressed ducks and place in a large sauce pan or pot. Add water to the pan until ducks are almost covered. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat a little; cook until tender.
After you pour the dressing mixture into the buttered pan, place the cooked ducks into the dressing. Cook for the 45 minutes as in the original recipe.
Note: Be sure to stir the dressing so it doesn’t brown too much around the edges.
Jason served his duck ’n’ dressing with black-eyed peas, greens and catfish. He even taught Rolley Len how to wash and tear the greens.