This past weekend, my delegation of Black friends here in Panama and I, all homesick and missing starchy Southern goodness, decided to tear da kitchen up and assemble like Black ass high-calorie Voltron for an elaborate, Itis-friendly Sunday dinner.
Our crew—made up of HalfroPanamanians (me and two others), DMV-raised Africans, a Trinidadian-Panamanian from Brooklyn, and whoever is in town that week—cooks together most Sundays. We take turns taking charge, whether trying new dishes or putting spins on what we each cook best. This time we needed the artery-clogging soul food many of us grew up on, for a change. Plus, it was to be the first of a few unofficial farewell gatherings for my roommate/sisterwife who was selected to teach for Fullbright in Rwanda and has to leave me/us.
There was to be no talk of diets or fat content. The goal: an excessive meal that sweet ol’ Grummaw Peaches, the one with the sugar, could not partake in.
So, there was my baked chicken (with a mustard and brown sugar glaze) and macaroni and cheese with cheddar, pepper jack, and Gouda. The Jamaicans made escovitch red snapper, rice and peas, and a bombastic ass okra situation. The Texas-bred HalfroPanamanian made banana pudding, cabbage (con turkey necks), and cornbread dressing. Or was it stuffing?
There was no consensus. Either way, it was the best I have ever eaten.
It’s a debate as old as time. It’s a topic as divisive as Vanessa Huxtable’s uselessness or blue contacts in post-pubescent Negroidian eyes. Like pop versus soda. OG Chocolatey Aunt Viv versus Creole Lady Flustered McHumorless Aunt Viv, and so on.
Whether you enjoy it from a box with vacuum-sealed ingredients, or via baked cornbread, broth, sage and other fresh goodness, this is apparently quite the polarizing dish. But what is it called?
I grew up hearing both names. Though my mother is a brilliant cook, her stuffing/dressing was never particularly legendary. Sorry, Mom. We called it both. Now, my grandmother’s patties (empanadas)? People drive four hours from Maryland to Hampton, Virginia for dozens of those. Even though other AfroPanamanians call them patties and other Latinos call them empanadas, the crescent-shaped, beef- or turkey-filled pastries she prepares are always Miss Ruby’s patties, regardless of who is buying.
I initially wondered if the difference of name was due to region, preparation, or intention, but that theory has been shot to hell.
I mentioned the stuffing versus dressing question on Facebook and it sprang into a hilarious, passionate 300-comment debate. Is it stuffing when inside the turkey and dressing outside? Everybody knew, yet nobody knew. The post brought bourgeoisie West coast Blacks; Black friends from the South raised on fatback fat stored in Folgers cans; trusted and vetted White friends; and everyone in between to the yard.
“Asking to pass the dressing [at the dinner table] will get you Thousand Island,” one friend wrote.
Friends cited their meemaws as verifiable, discussion-ending sources. “My grandma calls it dressing. So that’s what it is,” cried another. Assumptions were made about one another’s upbringing. Recipes were swapped. The whole thing spiraled out of control. It was beautiful and Black as hell.
Then someone mentioned apples, and I knew they had eaten Thanksgiving supper with White friends from college at one point or another.
Another friend linked me to an article she wrote for CNN that mentioned…
White Castle sliders as the base for stuffing/dressing. Oh the horror. #NameThatRace
Things took another turn when a DC-bred friend mentioned adding scrapple. Now, scrapple is one of those things—like Vienna sausages and banner sausage—that I’ve always seen loved ones eat, but could never peel my dignity back far enough to try for myself. I have a friend from this imaginary place called Delaware who loves scrapple. My childhood best friend’s dad made it often. I love them both despite.
I hear the word scrapple and think, “goat taints.” Naturally, goat taints don’t belong in stuffing/dressing. So, that’s the end of that.
Do not Google the ingredients of scrapple or banner sausage.
It was fascinating to see such passionate exchanges. Everyone had a story. Alliances were formed. All had a great night. Perhaps this is one of those things we collectively won’t agree on, like the damage done to Collective Black Dignity by modern reality television, the fate of Judy Winslow, ass-eating, and R. Kelly fandom in The Age of Obama.
What do you call this dish? What are the essential ingredients?