I loved, loved, loved having early Thanksgiving in the Smoky Mountains with our extended Mayhew/Harbin family. And I also loved having it again with our good friends Kim Council and Lori Ridgeway. But I have to admit I missed the Chapin dressing.
Back when I was a child, of course, it was known in the North as stuffing and it was actually inserted into the cavity of the turkey despite all the modern-day warnings about food-borne illnesses. Not a single member of the Chapin family ever suffered a moment of discomfort. My father, who always made the stuffing, would not allow Louise and me to participate until we were teenagers. My dad was an accountant and he took to preparing the stuffing as he would a tax return. Extremely precisely. Every bread cube was a particular dimension. All the diced onions and celery of exquisitely equal size.
We had our first white Christmas in Middle Tennessee in 17 years. The Mayhews pared down Christmas this year. Just a few presents, with the majority of the holiday focused on cooking, eating and watching movies on Christmas Eve and church on Christmas Day. It was nice. Not hurried or stress-inducing. Actually, the best part was stopping for a Diet Coke at the convenience store and seeing a fellow get out of his car dressed only in a robe and a stocking cap. He somehow seemed to think it was important for us to know that he got the robe as a Christmas present. Important fashion tip: It is never appropriate to wear your robe to the convenience store even if it is brand new.
But I digress. Dressing. In the South it’s always made with cornbread. But in the North, it’s always made with white bread. That actually says it all, doesn’t it? Cornbread versus Wonder Bread. But despite that, I love the Chapin dressing. Probably part of the reason is that generations of Chapins have eaten the exact same dressing, whether they hailed from Springfield, Massachusetts, or downstate Illinois. It’s tradition. Yummy tradition.
This year’s Christmas Eve dinner ran along traditional lines, too. But simple. Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce (just for me – the boys hate it). I made way more dressing than anything else. It is essential that there be a copious amount left to eat cold the next day. Noah loves it so much he made a sandwich out of it: bread on bread. I actually had to sequester part of the leftovers with a note that said “Mom” so the boy wouldn’t polish it off entirely.
I have decided that I am not going to wait until next Thanksgiving or Christmas to make some more. Easter. We’ll have Chapin dressing on Easter. Maybe Memorial Day, too.
Chapin Family Dressing
16 cups soft bread cubes, including crusts
1 cup diced onion
2 cups diced celery
½ cup chopped parsley
1 cup melted butter
2 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons crushed sage leaves
½ teaspoon pepper
Put bread cubes in large bowl. Mix the diced onion, celery and parsley together in a separate bowl. Mix the salt, poultry seasoning, sage and pepper together in a small bowl. Add the seasonings to the vegetables and mix well. Add the melted butter to the bread cubes and distribute evenly. Add the chicken stock and then the vegetable/seasoning mixture.
Spoon into a loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.