IN ONE REPORTER’S HUMBLE OPINION: Ora Lee Cole Perkins makes the best dressing
Published 5:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021
For my family, the Thanksgiving dressing is not a side dish. It is the main attraction and I’m eagerly anticipating it. My mother, Ora Lee Cole Perkins, makes it only once a year, and it always tastes satisfyingly the same way it tasted the year before and the year before that, for as long as I can remember. It tastes the same as her mother’s Thanksgiving dressing tasted, perfection.
Just for grins, I gave her a call a few days before Thanksgiving to ask if she wanted to mix things up a bit. I told her I found a few interesting recipes to try out, one that uses a little chorizo, another with ciabatta as the base instead of cornbread, and if she wanted a healthier option, she could use quinoa.
“If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t plan to cook it,” she said.
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A certain terseness has crept into her speech in the last few years, really the only sign of advancing years.
But she’s right. A National Public Radio online article by Bonny Wolf is in agreement about keeping holiday food traditions consistent. “Every day of the year is a good time to experiment with new recipes. Except, arguably, one.” And that’s Thanksgiving.
“If you want something like that, you make it,” she added. “I already told Jenny (my daughter) that if y’all want Thanksgiving dressing next year, one of y’all are going to have to make it.”
This is not going to happen next year or anytime soon. I look forward to eating my mother’s dressing for many Thanksgivings to come. She is 80, healthy, and works circles around me. Granted, she doesn’t like chopping vegetables. I don’t like watching her chop vegetables. I don’t know if she does it like her mother did, but I do know that my sharing a tip I picked up from a celebrity cooking show did not go over well. She never used the wide-mouth food processor I bought her 20 years ago. I thought it would be perfect for onions, celery and bell pepper, a chopper that would not annihilate the vegetables and other ingredients into pudding form, which is the way my ex-mother-in-law makes dressing. (Her children claim hers is the best, and rightfully so.)
Everybody puts his or her own spin on dressing, not just in-laws. Some might say that my mother’s dressing is on the dry side, and I prefer it that way. Gravy is for the mashed potatoes, not the dressing. The cornbread should not be sweet. It is not a dessert. (The dessert is the fruitcake the crazy aunt always insists on bringing. Always.) Seasoning is simple: salt and pepper, no sage, none, nada. Did you know there is an online article specifically outlining how to attempt to “save” a dish to which too much sage, “an overpowering herb” has been added. Don’t risk it. Don’t put sage in the dressing. Don’t put it in anything. That’s my sage advice. I don’t remember who told me about a Thanksgiving completely ruined when they visited a new relation who used sage in the dressing, which was referred to as stuffing. (Stuffing, by the way, is cooked inside the bird. It’s not appealing in looks and could pose a salmonella or bacteria risk.)
The point is, it just wasn’t Thanksgiving without their mother’s Thanksgiving dressing.
One of the reasons everyone in Southwest Louisiana doesn’t realize that my mother makes the best dressing, hands down, is because they’ve never tasted it. The second reason is, they’ve been enjoying their mother’s (or fill in the blank with the relation or friend that applies) all these years.
Food expert Linda Bartoshuk, PhD is the woman that discovered supertasters, people who actually have more tastebuds than the average person. She is frequently interviewed by The Atlantic, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and Popular Science.
Taste is not wholly a biological experience. It is also psychological, she explains in the Speaking of Psychology online article, Why We Like the Foods We Like.
Culture and experience help determine why some people might actually prefer the taste of sage in their dressing, (and even why they call it stuffing instead of dressing).
“What we learned to like very early in life sticks with us,” Bartoshuk said.
So basically, she agrees. My mother’s dressing is the best. (And so is your mother’s.)
Join me this Thanksgiving in being thankful for the dressing, for mothers, for crazy aunts, for those who feed our bodies and our souls with their friendship and for the memories of those who started food traditions that will go on for generations to come.
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Ora Lee (Cole) Perkins’ Thanksgiving Dressing
2 or 3 chicken breasts and a couple of thighs, cooked until tender then deboned and chopped small.
2 packages of cornbread, Corn Kits, baked.
2 cups of celery.
1 ½ cups bell pepper.
1 ½ cups onion
A bunch of green onions
Eight eggs, boiled
About a cup of rice
Broth to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Bake at 425 degrees until it’s brown on top