Preheat the oven to 400F for 20 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 300F. Spray 2 rimmed baking sheets or jelly-roll pans with oil.
Spread the crumbled cornbread in a single layer on each baking sheet. You will have to do this in several batches. Checking every 10 minutes or so and shaking the pans to redistribute the crumbs, bake the crumbs until they are quite dry but not browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the dry cornbread to a large bowl.
As the cornbread toasts, prepare the sausage. For the meat version, brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking up the pieces with a spatula. Remove the browned sausage with a slotted spoon, and add it to the dry cornbread in the bowl along with 1 or 2 tablespoons of the sausage grease (discard any remaining grease). For the vegetarian version: Place the oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the soysage and saut according to package directions, keeping any leftover fat in the pan. Dice the cooked soysage as necessary into bite-size pieces, and add it, along with the cooking oil, to the cornbread in the bowl.
Add the onion, celery, garlic, sage, thyme, parsley, dried fruit, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste to the bowl. (Note: You can prepare the dressing in advance up to this point. Let it cool, stash it in zip-top bags, and store, refrigerated, until ready to complete the recipe.)
Heat 2 cups of the stock and 3 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. When the butter melts, pour the liquid over the crumb mixture and toss well, using your hands. Taste, and if you like, add the extra ½ cup stock and adjust the seasonings. Use to stuff the bird or vegetable of choice, according to your favorite roast turkey or pumpkin recipe. Or bake as is as an accompaniment (see step 6).
To bake the dressing on its own, place it in a deep oil-sprayed baking dish with a 4-quart capacity. Dot the top with the reserved tablespoon of butter and bake at 325F, tightly covered, for 1 hour. Uncover, raise the heat to 375F, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Savory Cornbread Dressing with Bacon Substitute 1 pound crumbled crisp-cooked bacon for the sausage.
Vegetarian Savory Cornbread Dressing with Tempeh Bacon Substitute 1 pound smoked tempeh, cooked until crisp in ¼ cup oil or butter, then diced, for the sausage. You may use the fat the tempeh was cooked in instead of the butter in step 5.
Savory Cornbread Dressing with Eggs To some, a savory dressing without hard-cooked eggs is a sham and a mockery. If you are one of these people, simply add 4 to 6 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped, to the dressing along with the vegetables and herbs.