Let me announce up front: I’m a stuffer! Always have been. I know, I know . . . we’ve been warned in recent years of salmonella, that might occur from eating a fat-soaked loaf of Wonder bread jammed into the cavity of the holiday bird. The safety valve here is getting the turkey to a 165 degree temperature, when measured with a food thermometer at the inner side of the thigh. But if you want maximum safety, the oven-cooked dressing is the way to go.
Go Light and Easy
Whatever you do, the dressing should be handled lightly and coaxed into the salted cavity (or baking dish) with a gentle hand. My problem with the stuffed turkey is that each year Thanksgiving ghouls, (left over from Halloween, I think), surround the bird fresh from the oven to pick away at the dressing before it ever hits a bowl. Truth be known, I lead the raid. Too often, by mealtime, the only dressing left is the overflow, that I baked in a large pan in the oven. I have to admit, it’s nearly as good.
My Preferred Turkey Stuffing
I make a cornbread-sausage dressing. The recipe has a few unique items, (but not as many as Marilyn Monroe’s classic take on the side dish. Apparently, guests will eat most anything if, like Marilyn, you can hoist a 20-pound bird from the oven while wearing a tiny apron and high heels.) But I digress.
I got my recipe from my hairdresser back in the 60s. It calls for a couple cans of Campbell’s Chicken-Rice soup. I still use at least one can—for old-times’ sake—but have moved to the packaged chicken broth. I once made the cornbread portion from scratch, but have returned to the Pepperidge Farm packages, that you see in the stores this time of year.
To that I add a soffritto of onion, celery, and garlic, and a little carrot and apple for sweetness, all sauteed in the drippings from the sausage. The mixture, plus eggs and seasonings, are combined with a variety of toasted breads—sourdough, white, even leftover biscuits. You want the bread dry, not soft.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Making the dressing each year is one of my favorite messy delights; I’m a kid again. The smell of celery and onions sauteing on the stove and the toasting bread take me back to my mother’s kitchen. As a youngster, I awoke to the holiday aromas, that drifted through the house, reaching into my upstairs bedroom, announcing the specialness of the day.
My mother made an amazing meal in a narrow, 40-ish-style kitchen with, three doors, little cabinet or counter space and barely enough room for one cook to turn around. In Mama’s kitchen, everything was made on the day of the event. Come to think of it, that might have been because of space restraints in the smallish refrigerator—or icebox, as we called it.
But somehow she worked in a roaster oven between the stove and one of the doors, because. . .well, every housewife in the post-war era had a roaster oven. As I recall, she rarely used it except for Thanksgiving and Christmas; the rest of the time it stored bread and baked items.
So I will ponder all these things as I set the 2018 meal into motion this year. Wherever, or whenever, we celebrate the beloved American holiday,Thanksgiving begins in the heart. More than the grits and gravy, it’s the gratitude.