Oklahoma Table: Dress Up Thanksgiving Feast with Local Ingredients

Sherrel Jones shares a recipe for Thanksgiving dressing using Oklahoma products.
BY SHERREL JONES sjones@opubco.com Published: November 21, 2012

Having red dirt in the veins, this daughter of Oklahoma prefers turkey accompanied by cornbread dressing.

Great cornbread dressing is going to start with great cornbread. Left over or baked just for making the dressing, the cornbread is torn or crumbled into chunks and toasted in the oven. That way it absorbs the maximum amount of flavor from the turkey pan juices.

Cornbread was and still is a staple at our dinner table. My husband and I are years past thinking we need to saturate our cornbread with butter to enjoy its great texture and crunchy crust to accompany a variety of meals. What I really enjoy is making the cornbread with cornmeal ground right here in Oklahoma. It is an extra little blessing to appreciate at Thanksgiving.

I love to use Made in Oklahoma cornmeal when breading fish, thick slices of green tomatoes or making a simple pan of cornbread. We have two mills in Oklahoma that supply us with excellent fresh cornmeal. Shawnee Mills has been grinding corn and wheat for more than a hundred years. Follow Interstate 40 westward toward Hydro and you'll find Stone Stack Mill, a much smaller operation but dedicated to processing all Oklahoma-grown grains.

My mother used the recipe on the side of the cornmeal container, incorporating bacon fat in lieu of the oil called for in the recipe. Baked in the same well-seasoned cast iron skillet used to fry the morning bacon, her cornbread had that lovely hint of smokiness. This little extra bit of added flavor also produced an awesome cornbread dressing with the turkey.

We know bacon just has a special way of making things better, and it only takes one or two pieces sauteed with the celery and onion to impart so much flavor into the finished dressing.

Adding Made in Oklahoma bacon to the skillet could make the dressing even better. You'll find Bar S Bacon in groceries around the state or look for Twin Foods Granny's Good Ol' Fashion Bacon Drippings, providing consistent, high-quality, smoky-flavored bacon grease in every box.

There are so many things you can include in the dressing. Mother sometimes added some toasted pecans from our farm, and those are in season now and available locally through producers across the state. Be sure and pick up a supply for holiday baking and to store for use through the rest of the year. There's not much to equal fresh-gathered Oklahoma pecans and, besides, you'll need some for that pecan pie.

Over the years we've included corn frozen from the summer's harvest, sliced mushrooms from J-M Fresh produced in Miami, OK, oysters (not local unless you have a hankering to use mountain oysters, which I would not recommend at this time) or some crumpled sausage. There are several Oklahoma sources for sausage: J.C. Potter's of Madill, Blue and Gold out of Jones and Schwab's in Oklahoma City.

I make the cornbread the day before Thanksgiving when I can, but I put the dressing together the same day I cook the turkey. This gives me the chance to stir in that all important ingredient of turkey pan drippings to the dressing before baking. One thing you should do if you haven't already is include fresh poultry seasoning. This finely ground mixture of herbs really loses its flavor over the year between holidays.

The great thing about making homemade dressing is you can add your special touch. I like to include a few fresh sage leaves from my garden or simply arrange them on top of the dressing in the baking dish. They also make a great little aromatic garnish. Of course, dressing wouldn't be complete without plenty of chopped fresh parsley. I hope you can include some Made in Oklahoma ingredients in your Thanksgiving and holiday cooking.

I've also added instructions for making dressing muffins and an Oklahomafied version of pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Oklahoma Cornbread Dressing

This good-for-you-good-for-Oklahoma dressing uses Shawnee's Best Cornmeal to first make a recipe for Homestead Cornbread found on the back of Shawnee's Best Cornmeal packages. Dress up the dressing with additions of your choice if you like: J-M Fresh mushrooms (sliced and sauteed in butter), J.C. Potter's, Schwab's or Blue and Gold Sausage, Bar S Bacon, or Toasted Oklahoma Pecans. This recipe makes 1 (9x13-inch) pan or deeper (8- or 9-inch) round pan.

1 recipe Shawnee's Best Homestead Cornbread or your own favorite

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper (optional)

1/3 cup Hiland, Braum's or Wagon Creek Butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

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