Here is a sneak peek at just one offering of our December Issue. I also wanted to share this as this wonderful family wanted you all to have access to a wonderful Thanksgiving offering to those around your table.
Mama’s Cornbread Dressing
by guest writer, Lindley Barnett
Thanksgiving is ripe with opportunity. Opportunity to gather with family and friends. Opportunity to spend time together in the kitchen, at the table, and with a full belly in front of the television. In my family, preparing the Thanksgiving meal is also ripe with opportunity for a full-on kitchen skirmish, and no recipe holds the potential for just such a dust-up as does Mama’s Cornbread Dressing.
“Mama’s,” of course, refers to all the mothers in a long line mothers on my mama’s side of the family, and the usage of the word “cornbread” is redundant, I suppose, because what other kind of dressing is there in the South? Nevertheless, I can still hear the echoes of the Conditt girls, my Mamoo and her sisters, as they argued over this one vital Thanksgiving dish. Dressing runs the risk of a variety of disasters, the least of which includes too salty, too sagey, too brothy, or too dry. The greatest of all dressing offences, however, is for the dressing to be “gummy.” I lived in fear of gummy dressing, imagining that the resulting debacle might end up in the back yard followed by a great Conditt exodus, the screeching of Dodge Darts and Chrysler New Yorkers punctuating the shouts of “I told you sos!” Interestingly, so far as my memory serves, gummy dressing is an old wives tale because I never recall having anything but the perfect accompaniment to roasted turkey, cranberry ice, green bean casserole, and hot buttery rolls. (I purposefully left out the giblet gravy. I never could wrap my head around that!)
I have pages of recipes, scrawled in the various handwritings of the women I love most and have loved most in all the world, but making Mama’s Cornbread Dressing was an education based in practice rather than from following a handwritten recipe. Sitting atop a kitchen stool while watching, listening, and questioning was the way we all learned how to perfect this delicious Thanksgiving staple. As a result, the following recipe is chatty rather than measured.
Cornbread dressing in mama’s kitchen always begins at least a day ahead of time because you have to boil a fat hen for broth. No decent Conditt woman would admit to dressing made with broth from a can or a box, and heaven forbid she choose to skim off the fat! While the broth cools in the refrigerator, make a 10-12 inch iron skillet’s worth of your favorite cornbread recipe. We’re a savory bunch in my family, so no sugar in our cornbread, but if you’re a sweet Southerner, knock yourself out! Crumble the cooled and cooked cornbread into a large green Tupperware bowl. (I hope you have one.) Add a slice or two of stale bread to the mix. If I’m feeling particularly Bon Appetit, I might use a chunk of leftover baguette, but I’ve seen Sandy toss in a slice of plain old crusty white bread, but not more than a cup’s worth. Make sure it’s not fresh bread, though. Remember, beware of gummy dressing! Let the crumbles sit out for at least a day with a tea towel draped over the bowl so that they will continue to dry.
Only then does the real dressing process begin.
On Thanksgiving morning, dice a large onion and three or four celery stalks. My mama usually sautés these aromatics in a wee bit of butter or olive oil until they are barely transparent so that they won’t be crunchy in the finished dish. Toss the vegetables into the cornbread mixture. Crush a palm of dried sage into the mix (maybe even as much as a tablespoon or two) along with several grinds of the pepper mill. This is your dressing base. Now is when the recipe gets a bit tricky.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees at least 90 minutes before you plan to eat. Warm the chicken stock from the day before just enough so that you can pour it into a measuring cup. Beat 6-9 eggs in a small bowl. (Typically, with a 10 inch skillet of cornbread, I would use 6 large eggs). Now stir this mixture into the dressing base and begin by adding 3 or 4 cups of your homemade chicken stock. You’re going to have to go with your good sense here. Uncooked dressing should be about the consistency of the perfect bowl of oatmeal, not too thin, not too thick. Salt to taste based upon the salt in your cornbread recipe and in your chicken stock. Don’t skimp, but if your taste buds or your dietary guru opposes salt, then by all means allow your guests to salt at the table.
Pour the dressing into a deep enough buttered casserole dish so you will be able to give it a stir as it cooks. I have learned at my mama’s knee that this is the key to a dressing that is cooked through and moist, yet has a nice crusty top. Put the dressing in the oven, allowing at least an hour and half baking time. Check the dressing about 30-40 minutes into the baking time, stirring along.
At this point, I have a memory of a gaggle of Conditt sisters and daughters hovering around the oven in deep discussion. Each in turn would grab a spoon and give the dressing a taste. Decisions were made as to salt, texture, and doneness. Keep cooking if it’s too moist.
Add a bit more broth if it seems too dry. Stir and scrape the lovely brown bits from the bottom of the pan to the top as you add the broth, and then let it continue to bake.
After about an hour, give a quick check as to how the rest of the meal is coming along. If the rest of the meal needs a little more time, check the dressing again to make sure it’s not getting too dry. Add more broth and stir it through again if it is needed.
In the end, remember to count your blessings and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday . . . even if your dressing turns out gummy.
On Sunday, October 29 at 2 p.m. three women from Independence County will tell their stories in Old Independence Regional Museum. They were part of the legendary women’s traveling professional basketball team known as the “Red Heads.” Mickey Gay is from Pleasant Plains, Sandra Mann lives in Locust Grove, and Glenda Ledbetter is from Floral.
Sandy Mann remembers, “I was in the seventh grade when the All American Red Heads came to our school in Desha and played. I went home from the game and told my parents that if they would put up a basketball goal in the backyard and get me a basketball, I was going to play with the Red Heads. They did, and I did.”
During several years in the 1960s Mann, Gay, and Ledbetter were part of the Red Heads, one of the nation’s first professional women’s basketball teams, barnstorming small towns across the U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. They traveled in inexpensive vehicles, planes and ships, were up half the night hand-washing their clothes, doing their dyed red hair.
Glenda Ledbetter said that playing basketball was only part of the job. “We were there to entertain, so we had dribbling, ball handling routines, and trick shots such as the Spin Shot, Knee Shot, Head Shot, Flip Shot and a Piggy Back Shot. At halftime, I would do the Dipsy Doodle. Holding the basketball with both hands, I would bend over, throw the ball back through my legs up into the basket.”
The Red Heads played exclusively against men’s local teams, using the men’s rules, and routinely beat them. Once they won 96 games in 96 days, with three days off and three doubleheaders. Under Coach Orwell Moore the team played 2,116 games, winning 1,813 and losing 303.
In 2012, a great day arrived for the many Red Heads. The New York Times covered the story when the All American Red Heads, which had started in 1936 and disbanded in 1986, were officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts.
Museum Curator Twyla Gill Wright said, “We hope to have a good crowd out for the program so people can enjoy hearing these women tell about their days on the court, and to show our pride in these local athletes from days gone by.” The work they did as barnstorming women helped break new ground for their gender and pave the way for the thriving industry that is women’s basketball today.
A book has just been published about the Red Heads, including sections featuring these three women, and many others. Barnstorming America, Stories from the Pioneers of Women’s Basketball by John Molina is now available on line.
The program will be free and open to the public. Normal museum hours are: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for seniors and $1.00 for children. The museum is located at 380 South 9th street, between Boswell and Vine Streets in Batesville.
Old Independence is a regional museum serving a 12-county area: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff. Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in 1820’s Arkansas territory.
Twyla Wright – Curator of Exhibits
The White River Health System (WRHS) Foundation, in partnership with the WRMC Breast Care Center, will host its Annual Run the Wave 5K Run/Walk in Batesville on Saturday, October 28, 2017. This year’s event is an evening race starting at 6:00 p.m. We are thrilled to celebrate the courage of our breast cancer survivors and create awareness for WRHS’ initiative to fight breast cancer through the latest treatments and most advanced care.
The WRMC Breast Care Center is designed to ensure access to education, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship resources for patients. If you are interested in sponsoring the WRMC 5K, contact Amanda Roberts at 870-262-1927. To learn more about the race or to sign up, contact Jennifer Dorris at 870-262-1161.
United Way of North Central Arkansas’ Angel Tree Program helps hundreds of children each year know the joy of opening a gift on Christmas morning. Whether it’s a toy or new clothing, it’s a special moment that we want every family to share.
The Angel Tree Program will be assisting low income families in Independence County with Christmas gifts for their children and it’s time for parents/guardians to pick up applications. The applications may be picked up from the Department of Human Services at 100 Weaver Ave, Batesville, Arkansas, or the United Way office located in the First Community Bank building – Southside Branch at 1 Allen Chapel Road beginning October 2, 2017. The applications are to be returned to DHS no later than Tuesday, October 31, 2017 for processing. No applications will be accepted after October 31, 2017.
All information on the application is strictly confidential for those receiving services. The criteria for eligibility are:
1. Children must be ages 2 (two) – 10 (ten) and living in the home listed; and
2. The household must be receiving S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program).
United Way relies upon individuals and businesses to select an Angel and provide them with the gift of joy on Christmas morning. Names will be available to purchase gifts for the Angels from November 15th through December 1st.
For more information or to volunteer, please contact the United Way office at 793-5991 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.