Corn Bread, Cast Iron Skillet, Dressing, and Tradition
Emmaline Eliza, Nellie Mae, Mary Keith, and Julie Ann
My Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, Mother, and Me.
When I decided to write about this I was just going to attach it to any one of the food posts, but then I realized that this was too special and it deserved it’s very own post. This is dedicated to my Great-Grandmother Emma Keith.
Emmaline Eliza Keith
(My mother’s, mother’s, mother.)
This Christmas, I wanted to recreate the tradition I grew up with in my home of the magnificent corn bread my great-grandmother Keith would make for me every time I would go over to see her. I adored her corn bread and thought it was the best I had ever eaten. Those of us that grew up in the south knew cornbread like the back of our hands. It was a staple. But her’s was different. It just somehow tasted better than everyone else’s. My mother told me it was because she used cake flour as well as corn meal.
My Great-Grandmother Keith’s Cast Iron Skillet
It’s about 100 years old.
When I would visit her when I was a little girl, she always had the corn bread cooling on her kitchen table that she had just made especially for me. It was fluffy and light as a feather, and I loved it! I’ve never tasted anything like it since, and I wish that she had written the recipe down, but she just kept it in her head and took it with her when she died.
I asked my mother if she had her recipe, but she didn’t. She did tell me that Grandmother Keith used cake flour in her’s and that made a big difference.
She died when I was probably 8, I remember her quite well. She was 96 when she passed away from breast cancer. (Cancer doesn’t run in my family but the longer we live we eventually die of something.)
I remember that she had this lovely screened in porch with this wooden porch swing that was suspended by these giant springs. She and I would sit out there and fan ourselves with these big fans that she kept out there on a table. They were kind of charming actually. A big piece of cardboard with a fancy popsicle stick that you would hold in your hand. They were give away’s from the local banks and insurance companies. This was the south, after all. Before everyone had air conditioning.
Julie and the Magnolia Tree
Rome, Georgia 1962
Other than her cornbread, and memories of sitting on her porch swing fanning ourselves in those hot Georgia summers, my other memory is of this magnificent magnolia tree that stood in her front yard. I was always inside of it climbing and swinging on those branches. Whenever they couldn’t find me they knew to look there.
I loved that tree. It was tall and majestic. Up until just a few years ago it was still standing. But someone had bought the land her house once stood on and they bulldozed over every bit of it. I understand how other people feel about trees and why people do fight to prevent them from being torn down.
My mother, Mary Keith
My mother had also played on that tree and was upset that it was gone.
Little Julie into my Great-Grandmother’s ‘face powder’.
My Great-Grandmother was from a poor family. She herself gave birth to 4 children. One of them died when he was only 11 months old from diphtheria. My grandmother also got sick from diphtheria after her brother died, but she lived. They said she survived it out of sheer stubbornness. I believe them. If Nell doesn’t want to go, then she won’t.
From left to right: My grandmother Nellie Mae, her sister Opal Lucille, and their brother that died at 11 months, Brodie Rondo.
I don’t have a baby picture of their brother Joseph Raymond. I named my own son after baby Brodie above.
My grandmother is the only one that is smiling in their baby photos. She was always very friendly and a social butterfly.
Grandmother Keith and Me and my dog Cookie
Emma was married to my great-grandfather Lucius Keith.
He is the one standing in the back on the left, wearing the hat.
This picture has my great-great grandparents, Ma and Pa Keith, they are to the right in the photo and those are all their children. The other couple to the left of the photo are my great-great-great grandparents. Cool, huh?
For Christmas this year I wanted to recreate the cornbread dressing that my great-grandmother, grandmother, my great-aunt Opal, my great-aunt Margie, and my mother used to make.
Photos From Christmas
Making the Cornbread Dressing on Christmas Day
Traditional Southern Family Cornbread Dressing
I had planned on making my great-grandmother Keith’s, and my grandmother’s cornbread dressing this year all by myself. I just didn’t like the way Gordon has made it in the past. He would use their recipe but he would, as I say, “Whann it up.” And I didn’t want that. I wanted the dressing the old fashioned way, the southern way that the Keith women in my family had made it, so I took on that project with great pride. I even used my great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet, just like she would do.
This is the skillet that housed the best cornbread that my great-grandmother Keith would make.
When my great-grandmother Keith died my grandmother inherited the cast iron skillet, and when my grandmother died I got it. Actually, I was at her house after she died and I walked into the kitchen and took it out of her cabinet and announced to a room full of people that, “This is now mine. I’m taking it.”
My Great-Grandmother Keith’s Cast Iron Skillet
This must be about 100 years old.
It says National
It also says, 9 A on the bottom.
I was doing a little bit of research online and came across this website that I would like to post the link. It even mentions the National brand.
I was very proud of my dressing that I made myself. I made the corn bread two days in advance in that cast iron skillet and let it sit in a bowl getting stale, just like they would do. I used cake flour with the corn bread just like my great-grandmother Keith would use. My mother gave me a recipe using cake flour as a guide. It was good, but it wasn’t her’s.
I felt as if I had lots of critical women glaring down on me this day. But I came through, I did it for me, and for them.
Although this isn’t Emma’s cornbread recipe, this was the recipe that I used to make the cornbread, that made the dressing.
I did double this recipe. This is probably a very basic corn meal/flour recipe.
- 1 Cup Yellow Corn Meal
- 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 4 T. Sugar
- 4 t. Baking Powder
- 1 t. Salt
- 1 Cup of Milk
- 1 Egg
- 1/4 Cup of Vegetable Oil
Preheat the oven to 425F. Combine the yellow corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Add the milk, egg and oil.
Mix until the batter is mostly smooth.
You want to grease your cast iron skillet before adding the cornbread mixture.
This is how my Great-Grandmother would do it.
She would put a blob of lard onto the skillet and place into the oven to melt. It is also getting the pan hot for the cornbread mixture.
When the lard has melted and the skillet is nice and hot, then add your cornbread mixture. It will already start to cook and the bottom and sides become nice and crispy.
You want to cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Try inserting a toothpick and make sure it comes out clean.
You can of course eat it straight out of the oven. We cut it like you would a piece of pie, slice it horizontally, and spread it with butter in between, and put butter on top of it as well, then top it off with some salt.
However seeing as how I made this cornbread to be used in the cornbread dressing, I removed it from the cast iron skillet when it was cool and then added it to a large bowl to get stale. I did cover it with some aluminum foil, but left it open to vent.
It’s best to do this two days before you make your dressing.
Keith Family Dressing Recipe:
(We always double this.)
My Dressing Ingredients
- 1/2 Cup Chopped Onion
- 1/2 Cup Butter or Margarine
- 8 Cups Very Dry Bread Crumbs and Stale Cornbread
- 1/2 Cup Chopped Celery
- 1 t. Salt
- 1/4 t. Pepper
- 1/2 – 1 t. Sage, Thyme, Marjoram, Rosemarry (To Taste. We always use more than is stated here.)
- Chicken Broth and can use some water.
- (Write up by my mother, Mary Keith)
Cook the onion and celery in butter until soft and yellow, stir in some of the crumbs and cook until light and brown.
Have your crumbs in a big mixing bowl and pour the butter mixture over them.
Mix lightly and add rest of seasonings. For dry stuffing don’t add too much liquid. For moist stuffing, (which I like) add liquid to hold all together. Put in a greased cast iron skillet or baking pan.
Ready for the Oven
Bake in a 325 – 350 F oven until as dry and you want. Cook 30 – 45 minutes or more.
The Giblet Gravy
(This is yet another Keith family tradition. Giblet gravy is made from the turkey giblets.)
Gordon always makes this gravy but he uses my great-grandmother’s recipe. This gravy is excellent with turkey, of course. We saved the giblets from our Thanksgiving turkey.
Recipe as written by my mother:
Boil an egg, wash the liver, heart and cleaned gizzard and neck. Cover gizzard and heat with about 3 cups of cold water, add 1 t. salt and dash of pepper. Simmer 45 minutes – 1 hour.
Add liver and simmer about 20 minutes more, until tender.
Take giblets out of broth and chop up fine.
Cooked Turkey Giblets
Gordon Cooking the Gizzards
Discard the Turkey Butt
The Chopped Giblets and Hard Boiled Egg
Take the giblets out of the broth and chop up fine. Put some of your fat drippings from the bird, (4 T.) in skillet. Heat it and add 4 T. flour, stir. Be sure to salt and pepper and add broth. Use canned broth also if you don’t have enough. I usually have to. Always stir smooth after adding liquid.
(The giblet gravy was made in the cast iron skillet as well.)
Keep adding liquid bringing to a boil after additions until gravy is thin as you want it. Then add chopped giblets and boiled egg. Also add some seasonings of thyme, sage, marjoram, and rosemary to taste.
My Great-Grandmother and Myself in St. Petersburg, Florida in the late 1960’s.
We took the nicest trips to Florida. That is me to the right. I don’t remember the name of the other girl, she was just someone I met and played with while on vacation. I was so tall, I always towered over all my cute, adorable, friends.
I wanted to re-post this because I talk about that famous cornbread dressing here.
Now Why Did I get an Easy Bake Oven?
Me, Christmas 196?, Rome, Georgia
I came across this old photo of me with a candy cane in my mouth and my Christmas gifts behind me and it dawned on me,
THAT’S why I got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas!
Allow me to explain.
I grew up in the south watching all these wonderful women dote on their husbands. My grandmother, my great-grandmothers, my great-aunt Margie, my mother, family friends, ladies from church……you name it!
I watched these women wait ‘hand and foot’ on the men while they just sat there in their comfortable chairs smoking their cigars, reading their newspapers, watching a ball game on t.v…..
One Thanksgiving, I believe it was the Thanksgiving before that photo of me above was taken, I had watched the women in my family work for days to make the biggest and best Thanksgiving dinner ever. The corn bread is made two days before Thanksgiving, a big huge batch of it, and it sits in a bowl all broken up with some aluminum foil covering it, but not all the way so that it can get stale. That will make the most delicious corn bread dressing you will ever taste. I would always go into the kitchen and dip my hand into that big bowl of cornbread and grab a little piece to eat. Unfortunately there was always someone nearby to see me do it and scold me telling me that cornbread is for Thanksgiving dressing. (But that never stopped me because I would continue to sneak little bites of cornbread up until that dressing was made. Didn’t matter how stale it got, I think most of us at that time grew up loving cornbread whether it was fresh out of the oven or stale and hard as a rock.)
I can remember that Thanksgiving because after watching the women slave away for days cleaning the house, washing the finest china and crystal, setting the most beautiful table with their finest linens, and then cooking the best Thanksgiving day ever, I saw these women were exhausted. Once the meal was over with the women’s work wasn’t done. There was food to put away, a table to dismantle, dishes to wash. I remember it took the women a good two hours just to clean up all that mess. I also remember seeing my grandmother collapse into a chair, desperately needing to rest. It was at that moment that my grandfather turned to my grandmother and said, “Nell, get up and make me a sandwich.”
It was at that moment that the feminist in me stood up and looked at my grandfather and said, “Why don’t you get up and fix your own sandwich granddaddy?”
Once the gasps subsided, you could hear a pin drop, that is before my grandmother lept into action with a strength she didn’t have just one minute prior, grabbing me by the arm and leading me out of the room into Honnie’s bedroom. I could hear my Great-Aunt Margie saying to my grandmother, “Nell, don’t be hard on her she’s just a little girl. She doesn’t know any better.” Once in the bedroom my grandmother scolded me for daring to speak to my grandfather that way. It’s funny but all the men were laughing about what I said, (my grandfather, great-uncles,), but the women were horrified! I couldn’t understand why they were so mad at me? I was only trying to help them. I was sticking up for them.
Now looking at that photo above makes sense, now I know why I got an Easy Bake Oven that year for Christmas.
Well, Grandma, Honnie, Aunt Margie, and Grandmother Keith, I think it was at that point when I decided that I would marry a man that cooks.
And I did!
I also married a man that knows how to clean, iron, fix things, and give great back rubs.
He also knows how to make his own sandwich, after he cooks a great Thanksgiving dinner most of it by himself.
I’m the luckiest lady in the world and I know it!
I think Gordon was the one that should have gotten the Easy Bake Oven.
(He did tell me that he played with his sister Heather’s Easy Bake Oven.)
I did it for you Grandmother Keith. I miss you!
Julie’s Christmas Dinner Plate
I can just taste the history here. Granted, it’s buried underneath the giblet gravy.
BTW: That’s my wedding china.
Lots of traditions on this day. 🙂
Re-Post from 2012
“The North thinks it knows how to make cornbread, but this is a gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern cornbread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.”
When I was a little girl I would visit my Great-Grandmother Keith she would always have a huge cast iron skillet of her cornbread that she would make just for me. I loved her cornbread! I loved her! She had the best cornbread in the world and I would do anything to have her recipe right now. (Actually I would do anything in the world to have her right now). But I don’t. She died and took all her recipes in her head with her. I do know that she used cake flour along with corn meal. That’s why it was always so light and fluffy. My mother has come across similar recipes and she has sent them to me to make but I know it’s not the same.
Delicious, but not perfection like hers was.
Always Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens
Black eyed peas to bring you good luck
The Hoppin John recipe is something that we came across and loved. We like the rice separate from the black eyed peas and turkey kielbasa, most people just combine it all together.
1 1b. of turkey kielbasa sausage sliced into little medallions
1 cup of diced onion or thereabouts
½ cup of diced green bell pepper
1 stalk of celery diced
2 cans of black eyed peas, undrained
1 packet of Goya Sazon without Annatto
Dash of hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice, however much that you want. We use Jasmine rice.
In a saucepan on medium heat cook your Kielbasa until browned. Drain excess fat. Then add your onion and celery and cook for about 5 minutes or so until tender. Then add your black eyed peas, sazon, hot sauce, salt and pepper, uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and serve over rice.
(Some recipes call for the rice to be added to the mixture but we like it separate.)
To bring you money all year long.
The collard green recipe my mother found in one of my Southern Living Annual Recipe books from 2009. It is a lighter healthier version than the traditional recipe that my ancestors cooked. But it is quite delicious! I know my ancestors used a big chunk of ‘fat back’ to season it up and here this recipe calls for olive oil. Not traditional but still a lot healthier and just as tasty.
Collared Greens with Red Onions
Makes 8 servings
Cook time 1 hour and 20 minutes
3 – 16 ounce packages of fresh collard greens
2 medium- size red onions, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ½ cups vegetable broth
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar (We use Splenda brown sugar)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1. Trim and discard thick stems from bottom of collard green leaves. Thoroughly wash collard greens.
2. Saute’ onions in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 8 – 10 minutes or until tender. Add broth and next four ingredients. (We did not use a Dutch oven here. We just used a very large pot).
3. Gradually add collards to Dutch oven, and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 – 10 minutes or just until wilted. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 hour or until tender.
Because collard greens are a bit runny it’s best to have them in a bowl on your plate.
When chopping rosemary I always found that it would fly all over the cutting board, landing on the counter or even the floor, wasting a lot of it. So I decided to put some butter on the cutting board first, then add the rosemary that I need for the recipe and chop it that way. Into the butter.
Of course, in order to do this your recipe must call for some kind of butter. But I found it worked much better. Here I am making the Dressing for our Christmas dinner.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it and reliving it.
I’d do anything to have these women back scaring me with all their old ‘wives tales.’
Julie Ann Lancaster-Whann
Christmas cooking with Grandmaw Nell, 1980, when we were living in Rockingham, N.C. I’m working a puzzle while waiting for my cake to cook. We grew up with puzzles everywhere needing to be worked on most every available table. We were always working puzzles.
My little brother Ben in the photo as well.
Happy Christmas Memories
The cast iron skillet that I write about will be passed down to my daughter Veronica when I die. That will make her the 5th. generation to use it and cook delicious meals in it for her family.
I have another cast iron skillet that belonged to my grandmother that she passed directly to me. That skillet will go to Brodie.
But until that time comes, I am still using both of them! 🙂
Christmas Day, 2019
I decided to gift brand new cast iron skillets for Veronica and Brodie to use now and to create their own traditions and pass them down to whomever they please. 🙂