Tag Archives: kushmagudi

Memories of Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving afternoon and I am sitting at my parents’ house. It’s quiet for the moment on a beautiful warm-ish sunny day and my mother is resting after coming home from the hospital yesterday.

Mother did not feel up to having the Thanksgiving meal at the home of my brother and his family today as planned so we quickly came up with an alternative. I cooked what Mother and I planned to bring from her house and my brother will bring food from their house and pick up our part of the meal.

Mother had planned to cook her cornbread dressing so I used her recipe to make that happen. I was asked to make “kushmagudi,” my grandmother’s coinage for her savory mixture of crumbled cornbread and the potlikker from a pot full of turnip greens. I also am contributing an ambrosia, a fruit salad that is always as individual as the person who prepares it.

My own ambrosia is in a state of constant flux, based on memories of my Grandmother Journey’s version, adaptations of chef Scott Peacock’s elegant recipe, and various others I have tasted. My own version today includes mandarin orange slices, pineapple chunks, shredded coconut, pecan pieces, and – in lieu of the miniature marshmallows so often used in a Southern ambrosia – I mixed in a bit of fluffy marshmallow crème. One final touch is a few cherry halves sprinkled in for color as much as anything. The cherries are not necessary but I seem to recall them from ambrosias past.

Every Thanksgiving, no matter the individual circumstances that particular year, reminds me of my Grandmother Harbison. She would start cooking early and load a table with all kinds of food for the special day. Somewhere, at my parents’ house, there is a photo I took of Grandmother’s table just because I could not believe the bounty.

The memory is abundant. The lacy tablecloth would be on the dining room table and there would be potatoes – sweet and Irish, beans, peas, turnip greens (our family was always partial to turnip greens over collards), a big bowl of kushmagudi, casseroles, cranberry sauce, breads, and cornbread dressing (my Grandmother Journey would make oyster dressing if we were at their house).

At Grandmother Harbison’s table, there was always a turkey and a ham; chicken and roast beef were often on-hand. She cooked beautiful cakes and pies and there’d usually be a break between the meal and the dessert. Her dining room table wasn’t a huge one, but somehow, she’d manage to get everything on the table, including our place settings.

Grandmother Harbison fed people her entire life. Her philosophy was to have plenty of choices so that everybody would find something they liked.

I was a skinny kid in those days but, on the holidays at Grandmother Harbison’s table, I liked it all.

My most vivid memory of these meals, however, is what Grandmother would do while the rest of us were eating. She’d pull her own chair away from the table and sit in the corner or by the door to the kitchen. She’d take a small plate – sometimes a small bowl – and serve herself a small portion of everything on the table, tasting it carefully as she watched us eat and listened for our reactions. When she’d be asked why she didn’t pull her chair up to the table, she would respond “I’m fine here” and keep tasting, enjoying the reactions of her family to the products of her labors.

As the years pass, I think of such moments. I try to remember the exact year and circumstances of the very last Thanksgiving meal we shared at Grandmother Harbison’s table. But the details escape me. As it was happening, I’m sure we didn’t realize it was for the last time; we were savoring the meal, but we didn’t know we needed to fully and mindfully savor the moment.

Happy Holidays. 

 

A Thanksgiving Dressing

 

IMG_2069  No Southerner I know stuffs the bird. In my experience we always serve dressing on the side. My Grandmother Harbison made a cornbread dressing and Grandmother Journey served a fancier oyster dressing, still using cornbread as a base. I like both but Mother is partial to a plain cornbread dressing without oysters so her cornbread dressing is what we have for the holidays.

Near Thanksgiving last year I shared memories of my Grandmother Harbison’s kushmagudi, a cornbread and potlikker dish which has become a staple of our cold weather holiday table. During my father’s extended hospital stay, Mother has often mixed up a quick kushmagudi when she gets home from the hospital at night.

As my Grandmother Harbison’s health made it more challenging for her to cook the holiday feasts, Mother began to make her own cornbread dressing from a recipe she found somewhere. It’s a very easy recipe, moist and rich, and even though it wasn’t exactly the same as Grandmother Harbison’s dressing, it got Grandmother Harbison’s seal of approval.

The celery in the cornbread recipe reminds me of another Thanksgiving tradition at my family’s house. In addition to using celery in the dressing, Mother has always put out a dish of raw celery sticks with our turkey. I grew up with raw celery as part of the Thanksgiving meal and never thought it was unusual until people from outside the family informed me that they had never heard of such a thing. Even so, it is a nice complement to turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce. We put celery sticks on our turkey sandwiches on Friday and that is a crunchy and delicious addition to the Thanksgiving leftover tradition too.

Even though circumstances dictate a spartan Thanksgiving this year, I packed Mother’s cornbread dressing recipe just in case I find the time to make it. And remember that a proper cornbread recipe does not include sugar.

Simple Cornbread Dressing

4 cups crumbled cornbread
2-3 slices crumbled white bread
½ cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 large eggs
Sage, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken (or cream of mushroom) soup, undiluted

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or overnight) for flavors to blend. Pour into 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Food Memory: Kushmagudi

 

IMG_0881     As the cold weather holidays roll in, I look forward to family food traditions. Going into Thanksgiving week and celebrations in Birmingham with my family, food memory kicks in bigtime.

There is a dish called “kushmagudi” (this is my own spelling; there is no official spelling) which is always on the Journey family tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is simple Southern food and its name (and my phonetic spelling) has no precedence that I can find.

My brother wrote a lovely essay about this dish a couple of years ago but since I haven’t been able to retrieve it, I will reintroduce the basics to “Professional Southerner” readers.

My grandmother Eula Harbison used to make kushmagudi and I always assumed that it was a known thing, like salt on watermelon, pepper on cantaloupe, and celery sticks served with turkey. As long as I can remember, kushmagudi was on the holiday table so I would mention it casually and be surprised at the blank stares I received. As I lived and traveled around the country, I realized that nobody outside my immediate family seems to have a clue what “kushmagudi” is.

Many might know some variation of the dish, I think, but not by that name.

Kushmagudi is nothing more than a tasty mixture of crumbled cornbread with the potlikker of turnip greens. I say “nothing more” but I am convinced that one needs a cook’s instinct to pull off the right mix. I have always heard stories about Grandmother feeding the masses of her family and crowds from church at short notice in the ‘30s and ‘40s and having family move into her family home between jobs and houses, during travel, etc. Based on what I know, I realize that Grandmother’s kushmagudi may have been invented as Depression food and a way to make the food in the rural house and garden go farther.

Based on what I know, I am sure that the word “kushmagudi” is Grandmother’s own coinage to name a dish she already knew but reinvented for her immediate and extended families. I have talked with Southerners who know a variation of potlikker and greens but, so far, none outside my own family have referred to it as “kushmagudi.”

After Grandmother died in December 1995, I was asked if I would make the kushmagudi for Christmas. I will admit that I was daunted. I had eaten it all of my life but I had never thought about it.

I relaxed and thought about the dish. I realized that it is a basic and instinctual recipe and that if one understands its components one should be able to make it in a satisfactory manner.

Here’s my basic recipe for my grandmother’s kushmagudi:

Eula McCarn Harbison’s Kushmagudi

  1. Make 1-2 cakes of cornbread or use leftover cornbread if you have it (remember that sugar is never acceptable in cornbread).
  2. Boil up a pot of turnip greens with your favorite spices and seasonings.
  3. Bring the greens to a boil and simmer on low for at least a half hour.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, crumble 1-1½ of the cakes of cornbread.
  5. Ladle the potlikker of the greens over the crumbled cornbread in the mixing bowl and mix to your preferred consistency and taste.
  6. Let the mixture meld for a while, keep it warm, and serve it.

I like to mix some collard greens with my turnip greens to vary the flavor of the potlikker a bit. Grandmother tended to use less spices in her greens than I do; she used salt and pepper. I like to add a little pepper sauce, sage, bacon fat, garlic powder, thyme, and other seasonings to the greens before I strain them into the cornbread. I also might add a small dash of sugar to the greens (but never to the cornbread). I also like to mix more of the actual greens into the mix. Grandmother generally just used the potlikker and served the seasoned turnip greens as a separate side dish.

This is truly a recipe that may be adapted to your and your family’s preference.

A bowl of kushmagudi with a glass of buttermilk is a perfect meal on a chilly night in late fall or winter.

Even though kushmagudi is cornbread-based, it is different enough that my family serves it alongside Mother’s traditional cornbread dressing. I think one must sprinkle pepper sauce over a good kushmagudi at table. This is a dish that is always on my family’s table at Thanksgiving and Christmas and is often a side at my New Year’s Day luncheon.

If you have a variation of this dish, or a variant name, I would love to hear from you. If you’ve never tried it, you ought to. It’s easy and tasty.

Happy Thanksgiving.