Creole Oyster Dressing: A Cult Classic

jylbenson

My father Andy and daughter CeciliaThere was a cult following for my father’s oyster dressing, the preparation for which was arduous and time consuming due in part to the number of people depending on that taste of Creole Nirvana to make their holiday meal complete as well as my perfectionist father’s refusal to use a food processor to aid in chopping the seasonings. He insisted that the dressing these modern conveniences produced was substandard due to their tendency to liquefy, rather than chop, the ingredients. Besides, he was masterful with his 10” chef’s knife and as a child I could sit for hours watching him work his art on piles of onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic so it was no big deal to watch him plow his way through 30 cups of seasoning.

As the years rolled by it became increasingly difficult for him to stand for hours on end chopping ingredients for the dressing. The masses were alarmed by the possibility of a Thanksgiving or Christmas without Andy Benson’s oyster dressing so he pressed me, his youngest child, into service.

I inherited Oyster Dressing Duty in 1995 when I was 27 and I have been chained to it ever since. 

In the beginning I was required to collect all of the ingredients, bring them to his home and stand there chopping, chopping and chopping some more as he sat at my childhood post at the kitchen counter watching me. He was not admiring my methodical art form as I had once admired his. He was critiquing me. I would not have been surprised had the man hauled a out tape measure to confirm the uniformity of the fine dice I was required to produce. With the misery of 30 cups of seasoning behind me he would gather the fruits, or rather vegetables, of my labor and assemble the massive quantities of dressing required to satisfy his groupies. He got the “fun” part, cooking the dressing. He also continued to collect all of the accolades for the fabulous dressing that had, in reality, become a joint effort.

This routine continued until 2002 when my beloved father suffered a debilitating stroke and the full mantle of responsibility for making the dressing fell upon my shoulders. Even after my father died in October 2006 I continued to chop all of the seasoning by hand. This took hours and hours and ultimately led my husband, Andrew, to take pity on me. Three years ago, for my 40th birthday he presented me with a Cuisinart food processor and last year, for the first time ever, I cheated. 

As is my custom, I hauled out Old Faithful, the 24-quart cast iron Dutch oven necessary to make the dressing and I proceeded to whirl my way through the requisite 30 cups of seasoning in about 15 minutes.  The dressing was as fabulous as ever due largely to the quality of the food processors we now enjoy over those available in the 70s when my father first deemed them unworthy. 

I felt as though I had made a successful escape from Hell.

In a couple of weeks I will call Andrew into the kitchen to drag Old Faithful out of storage for the pot’s annual contribution. And I will employ the Cuisinart once again. It’s my only hope for one day convincing my 14 year old daughter, Cecilia, that she should keep up this family tradition and assume the mantle of Oyster Dressing Duty herself someday. She’s no fool. She had the sense to run when I asked her to help me chop a heap of seasoning a couple of years ago.

So, the tradition has evolved.

Under only one condition would I ever again revert to chopping all of that seasoning by hand: If I could do it once again with Daddy in the kitchen. Yes, I would gladly chop 30 cups of seasoning for the pleasure of turning it all over to him to assemble into his Masterpiece. He could take all of the credit and I would be so very, very happy to let him do it.

The recipe is here; it scales up beautifully if you're feeding a crowd.

Our people and our cuisine are central to our Louisiana heritage. Please share your stories and your recipes. You can e-mail me at  jyl@kitchenandculture.com.

Comments

Jyl, what a beautiful story...if only we could turn back the hands of time for just one more moment with them.  I'm like your Dad, I have a food processor and the only time I pull it out is to chop pecans, other than that, it's chopped by my hands.Thanks for sharing, and if you ever need an extra pair of chopping hands, please call me.Debbie Guidry-GauthierBreaux Bridge, LA

Such a sweet story Jyl. I'm brushing away the tears now. Holidays can be oh so beautiful and at times painful, but the important thing is to continue the traditions. My mom refuses to let us cook her Arkansas-bacon-fat drenched green beans, she will hang onto her walker stirring that pot. After reading your blog, I'm going to be by her side soaking it all in so I can stir the pot next year.         Deb Burst--Mandeville, LA 

Deb-

I know you are having a time with your mom right now. Just hang on. You will not regret a moment of the patience you show.

j

Nothing like the cast iron to bring out the best in this type of food!