It’s not the turkey or the mashed potatoes or the pumpkin pie, that I look forward to each Thanksgiving; it’s the Cornbread-Sausage Dressing—that soft bouquet of goodness that comes from sautéing a few veggies and mixing them with dry bread. Clearly, the sum is greater than its parts.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff
Let me announce up front: I’m a stuffer! Always have been. I know, I know . . . we’ve been warned 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.
Finding a Recipe
I settled on a stuffing recipe decades ago. It was given to me by word of mouth from my hairdresser. I wrote it down on the back of my electric bill, as she backcombed my fashionable beehive into shape. I’ve made it on T-Day ever since and included it in my cookbook: The Mansion: It’s Memories and Menus.
There are those who would like me to amp up the dressing with oysters, dried fruit, chestnuts or, heaven forbid, tofu, but I’ve resisted.
I begin with a soffritto of onion, celery, and garlic, and a little carrot and apple for sweetness, all sautéed in the drippings from the sausage.
The mixture, plus eggs, broth, and seasonings, are combined with a variety of toasted breads—sourdough, white, even leftover biscuits. You want the bread dry, not soft.
Go Light and Easy
Whatever you do, the dressing should be handled lightly and coaxed into the salted cavity with a gentle hand.
When it comes to the bread, I use part Pepperidge Farm cornbread dressing and part herb dressing, along with some sliced, oven-toasted, white bread. My Internet search favored Arnold’s Country Classic as being best suited for turkey dressing. It can be found at Target and Walmart.
Diving In; Fork First
The stuffing mixture takes on a heavenly aroma after mingling several hours, amid sausage and poultry juices.
When my turkey comes out of the oven each Thanksgiving, the “kitchen hawks” dive, fork first, into the stuffing before the bird is ever dismantled. I can’t blame them; I’m their leader!
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 sautéing on the stove and the toasting bread take me back to my mother’s kitchen.
Thanksgiving Has a Distinct Aroma
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.
Just Remember . . .
So I will ponder all these things as I set the 2021 meal in motion. But wherever, or whenever, we celebrate the beloved American holiday, just remember that Thanksgiving begins in the heart. More than the grits and gravy, it’s the gratitude.