Joni Woolf: Repeating a winner — dressing to make now and freeze

Published 10:19 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

Two years ago, our great regional magazine, Southern Living, came forward with a new idea: making the Thanksgiving dressing ahead of time and freezing it. Many of us gasped at the idea, but a few tried it. I was one of those, and I passed it on to several friends, all of whom found it not only helpful, but delicious. Since next week and the next are perfect times to “make-ahead,” we are repeating the recipe and the method. I have now used it for two Thanksgivings, and plan to begin shopping next week for all the ingredients. I will make the dressing and store it away in the freezer, pulling out in time to thaw, then bake.
As I noted when I wrote about their method in 2016, I did not use their recipe, though mine is quite similar. I do not — have never — used bagged stuffing and that is the major difference. When you have a crowd coming for the Thanksgiving feast, you want to do as much as possible ahead of time. Since dressing is a big part of many holiday meals, this method can be a serious stress-reducer. Since childhood, dressing has been one of my favorite foods, and as I write about it, I am wondering why we only serve it twice a year!

Cornbread dressing
First, make the cornbread as follows:
½ cup butter, placed in 13 X 9 pan in 425 degree F. oven for four minutes
3 cups self-rising white cornmeal mix
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
3 cups buttermilk
Stir together cornmeal and flour; whisk in eggs and buttermilk Add hot butter, and stir until blended. Pour batter into pan (I use two cast iron skillets), and bake at 425 degree F. for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cool cornbread, then crumble into a large bowl. Add the following ingredients:
2 large yellow onions and 4 celery ribs that have been sauteed in ½ cup butter until soft
3 cups toasted white bread crumbs, crumbled into small pieces
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon dried sage
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups chicken broth (plus turkey drippings after turkey is cooked)
Mix well, then store in two, 1-gallon size, zip-top plastic bags. Press out all the air and store in freezer. Thaw in refrigerator five days before Thanksgiving. Once dressing mix has thawed and turkey is baked, add 1 or 2 cups of turkey drippings to the dressing, stir well and spoon mixture into lightly greased baking dish or dishes. Bake at 350 degrees F. 45 to 50 minutes or until top is light brown. (I double this recipe and you can, too. Just make twice as much and bake in two large pans.)
Freezing the dressing clears your calendar and your counters at the busiest time of preparation, and gives you confidence that all will go as planned.
My method of making giblet gravy has changed significantly since I was learning to cook, many years ago. I no longer use giblets, so I have dropped the name “giblet” from our Thanksgiving vocabulary. These days, I start by browning about ½ cup chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter and cook till onion is tender; then add 1/3 cup plain flour, and cook and stir until flour begins to brown a little. Then I add a 32-ounce box of chicken stock. I cook in a large iron skillet, adding 1 teaspoon sage and 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and I throw in a tablespoon or two of the dressing mix, BEFORE I add the turkey drippings to the dressing mix. Sometimes, I add a couple of sliced boiled eggs, for looks. Then I move it to a crock pot, and since we serve buffet style; I leave it in the crock pot that sits behind the pan of dressing. This is an almost “no-fail” way to cook the gravy, and once I put it in the crock pot, on low, I forget about it! As with the dressing, I double this recipe.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so plan ahead and like a good Scout, be prepared.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at