Jasmine Guillory Wishes She Could Bake More Pies
The holidays will be different this year. Our series, "The One Dish," collects stories about what we're doing for Thanksgiving that will make us feel right at home.
My mom and I slowly took over Thanksgiving. Maybe 20 or so years ago, we started having it at my parents' house instead of at my grandmother's house, where we always had Christmas. My mom and I cook together a lot, so when we were making Thanksgiving dinner, it was always us together. Cornbread dressing was the thing that my grandmother would bring and it was my favorite. Even in the times when I wanted to see what other kinds of dressings there are, I would sometimes make a second one, but it would never occur to me to not have the cornbread dressing on the table. We wanted to try to replicate it, but she always held on to it. It's a lot of work. You have to make the cornbread, cut up the bread and then there's all the chopping. Now we make much smaller amounts, but she would make enough for 30 people, and there were like 10 people around our table. All that chopping—she did not have a food processor. It was mountains of onions and green onions and peppers and celery and stuff. She had arthritis, she started getting to the stage where it was hard for her to make it.
She would order us around, making sure we were doing it the way that she would. About 10 years ago, right after her 80th birthday we started doing almost everything, because she just couldn't stand or chop for that long. She would sit there and critique. She would usually not watch the whole time when we were cooking, but she would wander into the kitchen. My grandmother was a very orderly person and a very orderly cook, and that is not me or my mom. She would see us in chaos—which is the way that we cook—and get horrified and tell us we're doing it all wrong. We'd be like, "Okay, grandma," and then send her back to go watch football. She was a big 49ers fan, but she also loved certain players, and she liked the Saints too, because she was born in New Orleans.
She would always critique our cooking as we cooked, but by the time it got on the table, she never said anything bad about the food. She would say this at every Thanksgiving, "Thank goodness, we're all here together," and she would just eat whatever was on the table. I was much more self-critical of the food than she ever was.
There are certain times, especially as a kid, where you think, "Everybody has this on their plate, don't they?" It's only when you realize, "No, everybody doesn't have this," that you start appreciating a dish, thinking, "This dressing is special, I'm going to have a whole mountain of it." I have no idea where this cornbread dressing recipe came from. I should ask my mom if she knows. My grandmother had that perfect calligraphy kind of handwriting, and so the recipe we have is written out in her handwriting. I'm sure it was from an old magazine at some point, but she did also change stuff to it because the sausages that she always got for it—I just always assumed they were andouille sausage, but they weren't. They were sausages that she bought at this specific butcher, that she would always go to at Thanksgiving.
There was one dish we made it last year specifically, because it was our first Thanksgiving without my grandmother. She called it "the squash dish." My mom found the recipe somewhere and it was basically a bunch of squash that she cut up and boiled it, like a squash casserole also with shrimp in it, and breadcrumbs and cheese on top. We made it just to honor my grandmother, then when we ate it, it was actually really good.
My grandmother would always have potato salad for all big holiday meals. One time, I think it was last Christmas, we were like, "We don't need the potato salad," and we didn't have it. Then we were like, "You know what we actually needed though, was potato salad." My mom makes a better version of it than my grandmother did, so I was glad when we did it again—but I still wanted my grandmother's because it has everything. At those big holiday meals, everything is kind of hot and mushy, and so the potato salad has that crunch and it's cooler and it's a little more acidic. It's a good contrast to everything. It's not a salad, don't get me wrong. I'm not that Californian, but I tried it before and it just sits there, and here's what I will say: I love salads. I eat salad most days of the week. I actively enjoy eating it. I would never make one for Thanksgiving. It just does not go well.
I think of the appetizers as what my mom and I want to be snacking on while we're doing the bulk of the cooking. Usually for Thanksgiving, our dinner is usually scheduled around four o'clock, but everyone's always late. So we usually end up eating around five, but I don't eat lunch on Thanksgiving. I'll have breakfast and then the rest of the day is cooking, so the appetizers are something to have in your stomach while you're doing all the cooking. There's a handful that we have been making for years. Sometimes it's just chips and dip or more often veggies and dip.
There's another thing that has a very family name, that my mom has been making for a very long time: "shrimpy things." It seems like a very fancy word for shrimpy things, but they're basically a kind of crostini with tiny little shrimp with cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, and a few other things all mixed together. Then you slice a baguette and toast it, and you put the shrimp mixture on top of the baguette and toast it again, so it's all melty. Everyone who hears about it is like, "That sounds weird and gross," and then you taste it and it's amazing. My mother has been making shrimpy things as long as I can remember. I don't even know when we came up with the name of it, but I remember once in college, I made those for people. That's how long it has been. It's a little challenging to make them for Thanksgiving because they take an oven and an oven is always at high heat on Thanksgiving, but sometimes we'll use a toaster oven to toast the shrimpy things.
I actually enjoy new things on Thanksgiving, as long as no one's expecting the old things to not be there too. For a while, one of my uncles was with someone who was not quite a vegetarian, but was very vegetable-heavy in her food. I was always like, "This gives me an excuse to make some new stuff that has a lot more vegetables in it," so there's stuff for her to eat on Thanksgiving. I hear people talk about dietary restrictions, and if you should say anything to people when you're going to their house or if you should bring your own thing. I always want people to tell me what their dietary restrictions are. I don't care. If someone is coming to my home to eat, I want to have food for them. I'm always happy to make something extra for them; I just want all the details in advance.
This year will be different. We're still figuring it out. I'm lucky for a number of reasons. My family is local, so I've gotten to see most of them. People have big backyards and so we've been able to sit outside. I live in California, the weather will be temperate for the whole year, so it's possible we could do it outside. I am a leftovers person. Easter was the first real holiday in the pandemic, and my mom is the only person that I see without a mask on, so my mom and I made a bunch of food and then did deliveries to family members. No matter what, we'll do something like that. Even if we don't get to see them in person, we can make food for them.
There are these rolls that I started making a few years ago that my uncle's wife now demands every holiday. King Arthur Baking has been the guru of the pandemic and I loved them even before, but I love them even more now. It's a recipe from them, it's called golden buttery buns or something like that [ed: Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns]. They're amazing. They have a lot of butter in them and then when you take them out of the oven, you immediately brush them with melted butter. They're shiny and golden and beautiful, they have potato flour, which is one of the things that makes them so perfect. I double the recipe every time I make it.
I love making pie, but my family does not actually like pie as much as I love making pie. If it was up to me, I would make like six pies for every holiday, but here's the other thing: We have a lot of family birthdays in November, so there's always a birthday cake on our table, and so when there's birthday cake and then pies, you have to pull it back a little bit. So I usually make two or three pies, sometimes both pumpkin and sweet potato, sometimes one of those, and apple, it varies. My mom and one of her brothers have birthdays two days apart and it kind of depends on who gets to choose that year. If it's my uncle, it's a chocolate cake and if it's my mom, it's yellow cake with chocolate frosting. There's always chocolate frosting on both. I'm a good cook. I'm a terrible cake decorator. It's just frosting smeared around a cake. My pies are usually not very pretty. I follow too many pie people on Instagram now so I'm self-conscious about my pies.
I'm a leftovers person. I care the most about the dressing, and over the past few years, I've been doing a delightful thing, which is just pan-frying the dressing on a cast iron pan 'til it gets all crispy. It's fritters except I don't even do anything to it. I just add oil to the pan and slap dressing on top and smush it and then flip it over and it's amazing. Sometimes I'll add a fried egg, and then sometimes it's just the dressing. The rolls also are key for leftovers. They make a very good turkey dressing, cranberry sauce sandwich.
My mother is a big wine person and so I usually leave the selection to her. She usually pulls out some good California reds, and there's always champagne. We usually like drinking champagne as we cook and at the table, she will pull out some wine that she's been holding on to for a little while. Brown Vineyards, which is a winery up in Napa Valley has some great wines that we often have over Thanksgiving. They're doing OK. The first round of fires in August burned a little bit of their vineyard, but most of it was fine, and then the second round, they were totally fine. I go to Napa Valley a lot and I realized during the fires both this year and a few years ago, how many wineries' mailing lists I'm on because I'm getting a bunch of, "We're OK" or "We're not OK," emails. A lot of wineries had to get rid of all of their grapes. A friend of mine works for a winery in Sonoma and he's really, really sad because 75% of their grapes are gone. This is a good year to support your favorites.