Josephine Foster’s Cornbread Dressing

Growing up, Thanksgiving was a special time at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather Smith, a dedicated peanut farmer, had plentiful peanuts that we kids would roast on an old wood-burning stove, keeping us energized for the day’s activities. My great-grandmother Josephine Crutchfield Foster had already passed on the culinary reins to my grandmother, who was famous for her cornbread dressing.

Our childhood memories are filled with playing outside, our cheeks flushed with excitement and cold. When hunger struck, we were greeted by the delicious scents wafting from the kitchen. The ritual was always the same: wash up, then gather for the meal. Us kids sat at a smaller table on the back porch, while the adults took their places in the dining room. Before eating, we’d join hands in a circle around the main table, where my grandfather would lead us in saying grace. It was hard for us youngsters to stay patient through the prayer, but as I grew up, I began to appreciate his words, which now resonate at my own Thanksgiving table.

Though many family members are no longer with us, their presence is felt during these celebrations. Each year, I honor them by preparing my great-grandmother’s cornbread dressing recipe and my sister makes our mother’s cranberry relish. The tradition lives on, with my nieces and nephews now occupying the kids’ table, as we continue to pass down this cherished American tradition that each family personalizes in their own way.


Josephine Foster’s Cornbread Dressing


2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk

1 (6 to 7 pound) roasting chicken
8 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 celery rind, including leaves, chapped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
12 slices day-old white bread, crumbled
1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 level tablespoon rubbed sage
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

First, prepare the cornbread batter: Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk, stirring well to combine.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add bacon drippings to a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven for 4 minutes, or until it is hot.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and spoon the batter into the sizzling bacon drippings. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is lightly browned. Remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken (reserve them if you’ll be making gravy). Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out. Place it in a stockpot, and cover it with cold water by about 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the chicken and set aside while preparing the dressing. Reserve the broth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and set it aside.

Crumble the cooled cornbread into a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onions, and green onions, and cook until they are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Then add the mixture to the bowl containing the cornbread. Also add the crumbled white bread, 2 ½ to 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth, the half-and-half, beaten eggs, salt, sage, and black pepper. Mix everything well to combine. Taste for seasoning. Spoon the dressing mixture into the baking dish. Place the chicken on top of the dressing – either whole or cut in pieces. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is brown on top and the dressing bubbly around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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