Southern Cajun Cornbread Dressing

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Years ago, all in the same year, my husband and I graduated from college, secured first time jobs, were married, bought first time cars, moved way up to Michigan, bought a tiny little house,...and...there was something else...

what am I forgetting?

oh yes, and cooked our very first ever Thanksgiving dinner...for two.  Being far away from both our families, this was our first holiday on our own.

It included this "Cajun Cornbread Dressing"

I've realized since that many people refer to this side dish as "stuffing".  I had no clue about "stuffing".  No clue at all.  In Cajun country, everything is called "dressing".   In trying to decide what to make for our first Thanksgiving together, we both reached into our childhood memories of favorite dishes.

What came to mind for me was this cornbread dressing.  As a wedding gift, I had been given a cookbook put together by the Ladies' Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana~ "Talk About Good - Le Livre de Cuisine des Acadiens"  

If you ever want an authentic understanding of local dishes when arriving in a strange town, look no further than the local Ladies'  Club cookbooks.

I flipped through enjoying seeing such familiar dishes like "crawfish etouffée", "gumbos", and "shrimp creole".  I chuckled over the ladies' familiar Cajun names like Boudreaux, Fontenot, and Guidry.  

There it was ~ page 62~ Cajun Cornbread Dressing.  

I scanned the recipe ready to scribble down the ingredients but  stopped short with a sharp intake of breath.

These ingredients certainly couldn't have resulted in that delicious, moist, flavorful dressing I so fondly recall?  
Chicken gizzards?  
Chicken livers?  

All I could remember about this dressing was how much I loved and anticipated it every year at Thanksgiving.  "Perhaps I should find another recipe."  I decided firmly, wrinkling my nose.

The more I thought about the dish, however, the more I realized that in the history of cajun culture, such additions to food preparations probably came from the the need to economize on food preparation and make use of all available flavors for those french dishes brought from France long ago.

Curiosity did get the better of me.  I forged ahead with this newfound knowledge that certainly destroyed my innocent foodie recollections.   A strong desire for certain dishes from the past pushed me to scour the "game section" of the market until I located the vital "vittels" for this cajun dish.  

And so, indeed,  I made the dish that year.    It tasted exactly as I remembered it.  We loved it.  I felt an unexpected strong pull of pride that I was continuing a cultural tradition that I could have easily let slip away.  I was also thrilled to realize that I married a man who didn't wriggle his nose at such "exotic" ingredients.  Now that I had made this dish, what might be the next craving that will unearth such intriguing ingredients.

Thanksgiving rolled around this year.  We were traveling to Dallas to meet up with a large portion of Patrick's family.  I offered up side dishes, brioche rolls, and Patrick's famous apple pie.

Side Dishes??  Would his family cringe if I brought this dish and revealed the "highlighted" ingredients...other than corn bread?  As far as I could recollect, I didn't think anyone was...well... vegetarian.

I had not made this dressing since that very first Thanksgiving  years ago.  I was again craving the flavors of that cajun cornbread dressing.

I decided to go ahead and make it again.  His family have been introduced to everything from gumbos to bûche de noëls over the years so I thought they would all be good sports.

We arrived at the Thanksgiving gathering, dishes in hand.  Throughout the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, many dishes were heated in the oven and my "dressing" positioned on the buffet alongside the mashed potatoes and the string beans.

As far as I could tell, everyone enjoyed the dressing.  No voiced complaints were heard.  It's wonderful to bring many dishes to the Thanksgiving table that  represent so many cultural memories for different family members.  In our family, we have french, german, english, swiss, midwestern, cajun, and now mexican dishes that all come together.

Cold Winter morning in Texas

What a wonderful way to give each other, to our pasts, and to the many cultures that have come together in this country and are still coming together...usually in some sort of kitchen melting pot.

Cajun Cornbread Dressing
(adapted from Elsie Pickney of "Talk About Good" cookbook)
1 1/2 pounds chicken livers (finely ground)
2 pounds chicken gizzards (remove white tendons...yep),finely ground
1/4 cup oil
6 cups cornbread, crumbled
2 onions, finely chopped
2 bell peppers, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup onion tops

In large pan brown ground livers and gizzards in 1/4 cup hot oil (Snippet's Notes:  this is the grossest part, but it will look like ground beef when cooked)  When well browned add onions, and bell peppers, salt and pepper and cook slowly until vegetables wilt.  Continue to cook slowly stirring often and adding water to get a medium consistency.  Cook for approximately 2 hours.  When mixture is cooked add onion tops and parsley, correct seasoning and mix in cornbread.  Yield:  12 - 14 servings.

Homemade Cornbread

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil


Preheat oven to 400˚F (200 degrees C). Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

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