It occurred to me yesterday that for 15 years I have been picking up dressing for Thanksgiving at somebody’s back door.
We always have Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s house in Knoxville. Bunny has seen no need to make the turkey or the dressing because for many years, we had an impeccable source: Mike Ramsey. Mike owned a restaurant in North Knoxville and he did a booming business selling cooked turkeys and cornbread dressing every Thanksgiving for the kitchen impaired or space challenged. Every Thanksgiving, my father-in-law and I would rise at dawn, head to the Waffle House for some early morning waffle-and-bacon sustenance and then drive to Ramseys. We’d go through the back door and pick up our order: one turkey and two pans of cornbread dressing with gravy.
Times changed and not for the better. Paul died and Ramseys closed. One year I believe we skipped a communal Thanksgiving altogether and another year we met at a restaurant. Bunny just wasn’t ready. We all understood, but damn we missed the broccoli, rice and cheese casserole.
This year, the family kind of nudged her along and she agreed to host Thanksgiving again. It was time. We all pitched in (something Bunny would never allow in the olden days). I made the turkey, her sister made the mashed potatoes and her daughter made the green bean bundles. The broccoli, rice and cheese casserole made a triumphant return in Bunny’s hands. But what about the dressing?
I found myself – now with King Daddy and Noah – at the back door of Harry and April Bryan’s house in Powell. Why we drive 20 miles for a pan of dressing, I do not know. But we’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Bunny found Harry and April through friends. Bunny has a lot of connections.
The Bryan’s are competition BBQ cooks and run a catering business from a commercial kitchen attached to their house. We came in through the back door to pick up the dressing, which is laced with pulled pork. And here’s, once again, why I love the South. We chat about competition BBQ. I know a bit about it since I’m a Master BBQ Judge and former competition cook. I inspect the hardware (trophies that line one of the walls of the kitchen). If you get hardware, you are seriously good. We start to leave. “Wait,” Harry says as he hands me a bottle of Q-We-Do Sauce. “Take this.” I’m grateful. We chat a bit more and then turn to leave again. “One more thing,” Harry says as he reaches into his commercial fridge and pulls out a package of smoked turkey. “Try this – it’s unusual.”
Back-door dressing. And sauce and smoked turkey. I feel as though I’ve won the bonus round. Long story short, the dressing was a hit and the smoked turkey flew off the platter before my completely presentable bird. I did not share the sauce. In fact, I didn’t even tell anyone I had the bottle.