A Woman in Need of a Dish

By: Julie Day

Woman holding empty casserole dish
Thanksgiving is coming, and my taste buds are already gearing up for the annual feast! My family does Thanksgiving potluck-style, which means nobody’s expected to bring anything in particular, but let’s face it – it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Ashley’s cranberry-apple crisp, Amy’s potato casserole, Granny Nell’s coconut cake, Judy’s turkey dressing, and Dad’s Italian herb bread. Every year, I look forward to these treats, and every year, I’m reminded of one unavoidable truth: I’m a woman without a dish.

Over the years, I’ve made everything from homemade pumpkin ravioli to lime-buttered snow peas, and my serving bowls always come home empty. But the unavoidable truth is that in Southern families, real cooks aren’t defined by their culinary skills, they’re defined by their signature dish. You know, THE dish, the one everybody waits for. Probably in accordance with some antebellum law, counter space is specifically reserved for “So-and-So’s Famous Thingamajig,” and the rest of us have to squeeze in where we can.

Stack of cookbooksMy husband says that the signature-dish thing is more about repetition – or, as he puts it, “If you make a red-brick casserole enough years in a row, some guy will eventually start to crave it.” And, in truth, lots of famous signature dishes are nothing more than various combinations of pudding mix, whipped topping, cream of mushroom soup, and crushed up Ritz crackers (again, those antebellum laws). Still, I don’t have one!

So, once again, I’m beginning my annual recipe search – what will it be this time? Pumpkin cheesecake? Manicotti? Chop suey? Foie gras? And, being a newlywed this year, there’s nothing like being showered with gleaming serving pieces to add a dose of institutional pressure! June Cleaver, where are you when I need you?

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