Friday, December 19, 2008

Turkey Stuffing

My mom was a great cook in a rough fashion. She didn’t make fancy food and didn’t know any recipes, but if you wanted a hearty, decent meal, she was the one to call. Her ingredients were simple; hamburger, a roast once in a while, whole fryers (that’s chicken, for those of you too young to remember when chicken wasn’t sold already cut up) and the abundance from our garden. Is there any finer ingredient than a fresh tomato? Seriously.

When my sis and I still lived at home, our mom hosted holiday dinners at our house. One of the most important things we had to do was make the stuffing for the turkey. Because our family traditionally eats the holiday meal at noon, that meant we had to rise very early in the morning to prepare the turkey and its dressing. I have vivid memories of the three of us, my mom, sister and myself, baking, chopping, boiling, toasting and salting.

Now, my mom’s best attempt at a recipe was a telephone call to Granner transcribed to the back of a paper plate with a crayon Mom found at the bottom of a drawer. That’s how she made the dressing every year, on a wing and a prayer. Mom knew, substantially, what went into making dressing and how it should taste, but as for amounts and procedure, that varied from year to year. Her technique was to assemble it all, taste, then adjust, taste and adjust again. The miracle was that it was absolutely delicious, and I’ve never had better in all my life.

Mom’s cooking days are past. Although at 79 years old, she’s still vibrant and active, what little focus she ever had to prepare a large, complicated meal is dwindling and insufficient. That’s not to say she’s “doddering.” At her very best, rather, it was a great effort for her to keep on track. And why should she these days be expected to cook for all of us? Wasn’t that what those early morning hours with her two daughters were all about? Passing on her knowledge to us, disorganized as it might be?!

In fact, in recent years Mom has not done the cooking. I have taken a hand at it, and my sisters, too. Sadly, however, no one has tried to replicate Mom’s dressing. We’ve served Stove Top stuffing instead, but it’s a poor, poor substitute. It’s not that I wouldn’t do it if I could, but I don’t have a recipe!

O, the weather is rotten, and I can’t work on the garden shed clean-up, but I can still get to the store, and I’ve conjured up a new project—replicating my mom’s turkey dressing. Yes, I have to go to the dentist and get a permanent crown put on this morning, but I hope that doesn’t take long and doesn’t incapacitate me quite like having my tooth filed down two weeks ago. If all goes well, I’ll be in the kitchen this afternoon, drawing on my memories, 30 years old, and experimenting with loaves of bread, fresh-baked cornbread, celery and seasonings. Wish me luck.

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