There is a point just beyond the lens of the camera that she seems focused on, something bright and hopeful and willing. Stacks upon stacks of photos that lived in boxes, undisturbed for years, decades, in her overfilled cabinet of a house all document the same absent character - my grandmother’s smile, perhaps, returned by someone, some object or image, that I now have no parlance with. Her chin high, the glass of her eyes reflecting the world, she has the bearing of a victor or a stalwart in these photos. I was given nothing I wished to keep, she seems to say. I have pushed back this stubborn land of creeping vines and crops and burdensome heritage and made room for my own family’s story. This is my grandmother’s america - a new story, a hopefulness always at the horizon, tempered by vigilance over the stable ground that had been gained. She is the keeper of our story.
The sharing of food and hospitality was a practice that my Grandmother both keenly studied and relished as a tool of persistence. Handcrafted table settings and 8 course meals, pies for every community event, cookies for every bake sale, casseroles for every illness, and cakes for every anniversary. As her means ebbed and flowed, the sharing never waned. My grandmother would sharpen her pencil and file through her piles of recipes to find the perfect fit. Every Thanksgiving until her 88 year frame refused, my Grandmother would cook 8 dishes for her family. The ingredients of these dishes, might vary in quantity or preservation to mirror the times, but they would, without fail, conjure the same familiar memories of affection and contentment and hopefulness. From this insistence upon constancy, the oyster dressing that she placed on the table year after year (the Thanksgiving nemesis of my immature, candy-crazed tastebuds) was transformed into a recipe of comfort and assertion. My grandmother, “the indian” from Los Angeles, full of stories of the desert, and post-war Germany, and of the small southern town in which my Grandfather built their house, mixed oysters and mushrooms and bread and broth every November so that I would remember that I was her family and she was mine and that the future was never too far out of reach.
1 half-pan of cornbread
½ crusty bread
4 Tablespoon of melted butter
3 cups of Chicken or Turkey Broth
1 cup of lightly cooked blackforest bacon, chopped. Retain fat.
1 carrot, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
3 shallots, diced
(2) 8 oz containers of mushrooms (button or porcini or a mix). Grandma used cream of mushroom soup here . . .
14 oysters (retain liquid), chopped
3 Tablespoons Parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon Sage
1 Tablespoon Thyme
2 Teaspooons of balsamic vinegar
Dried giblets (if available)
- Cut the cornbread into ¾” squares. Toss in olive oil with 1 Tablespoon parsley. Cook at 350 for fifteen minutes until brown and crisp on all sides.
- Cut the crusty bread into ¾” squares. Toss in oliv oil with 1 Tablespoon parsley. Cook at 350 for fifteen minutes until brown and crisp on all sides.
- Cut mushrooms into quarters. Toss with olive oil and fresh thyme and balsamic vinegar. Spread on baking sheet and bake at 350 for twenty minutes.
- Saute the bacon. Remove from pan and drain. Retain 2 Tablespoons of bacon drippings in the pan for cooking the carrot, celery, and shallot.
- Add the carrot, celery, and shallot to the pan with the bacon drippings and cook until the shallots become translucent and the celery and carrot start to soften. remove from heat
- Chop bacon and add to bowl with cornbread squares, bread squares, and cooked celery, carrot, shallot mixture. Toss in the cooked mushrooms, sage, dried giblets, 3 cups of broth, and butter.
- Finally, fold in the oysters and oyster liquid. Add addtional broth if moisture is needed.
- Place mixture into baking dish and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Top dish with chopped Parsley and serve!
Unpublished 2015 piece written for Heritage Recipe at Food and Wine