Thanks to my friend Linda Hageman, the Howell household will be having a Sweet Sue Thanksgiving. That’s a very important thing in our family, because Sweet Sue Chicken Broth is a crucial ingredient for my mother’s Thanksgiving dressing. And without my mother’s Thanksgiving dressing -- now made by me -- there is no Thanksgiving.
Every family has its traditions. Mother’s Thanksgiving dressing is ours.
I don’t know where my mother got this recipe. I don’t remember my grandmother making it. It seems to me that my mother always made the dressing.
Making the dressing was a family affair for my brother and me when we were growing up. We were the choppers and crumblers. There’s a lot of chopping and crumbling that goes into this special dressing. It has celery, sautéed onions and raw onions. It has both homemade buttermilk biscuits and corn bread. My mother always wanted the corn bread and biscuits crumbled until they almost resembled their beginnings of fine meal and flour.
My mother has been gone since 1990. I still miss her almost every day, but her dressing tradition continues. My sons -- when they are home -- are the choppers and crumblers. I am now the cook. My husband, Neville, is the official “is this enough sage?” taster. The dressing not only fills the house with holiday aromas and fills our stomachs with the best dressing you’ve ever tasted, it fills our hearts with happy memories.
I’m not sure how my mother would feel to know that there are now many families in East Tennessee and beyond who also make her Thanksgiving dressing. I first wrote about the dressing in 1993 in one of my Rhymes & Reasons columns in the Knoxville News Sentinel. After answering more than 100 requests for the recipe (and this was before email!), we published the recipe a year later. Since then, I have stopped counting the number of requests I get each year for the dressing.
Most likely, my mother would wonder what all the fuss was about. To her, it was just crumbled up leftover bread with chicken stock and seasonings. And, I guess that’s what it is, but it sure does taste good!
When I began making the dressing myself, I tried to stay true to my mother’s way of making it. I dutifully boiled a large fryer for a rich chicken broth. Mother didn’t like turkey broth, and she turned her nose up at canned soup stock.
After a few years, however, the whole boiled chicken thing got to me, and I started looking for a prepared chicken broth that was good enough for mother’s dressing. The only one I found was Sweet Sue. It worked for years, and, then, it began to be hard to find Sweet Sue Chicken Broth.
My friend Linda learned of my pilgrimage each year to grocery after grocery to find Sweet Sue in another column. She showed up at the office last year -- a couple of days after Thanksgiving but still in time for Christmas -- with a dozen cans of Sweet Sue Chicken Broth.
Sometime last week, while I was out covering something or another, the Sweet Sue Linda elf showed up again.
And it is a good thing, too. As I did my Thanksgiving grocery shopping Sunday, there wasn’t a can of Sweet Sue Chicken Broth anywhere on the shelves.
I have added my mom’s Thanksgiving dressing recipe to the In the Kitchen on Page A22 this week. I didn’t think Robin McDaniel would mind, and I thought you might enjoy it. A word of caution, however. Mother didn’t know how to cook for a family of three, although, officially, we were. She always fed an army, so this dressing will easily feed 20. It’s easy to cut down. Just make sure you always have more cornbread than biscuits.