There are cornbread, white bread and sourdough stuffings. There are meat and seafood based offerings, as well a some great vegetarian versions. Some add fruits and nuts into the mix. Many feature the seasonings and spices of various cultural and ethnic cuisines. I even found some recipes using rice and potatoes. Yes, it appears that stuffing is a very personal thing, often reflecting the personality of the person who makes it.
In addition, I have also found that many stuffing makers are adamant in their belief that theirs is the one and only true Thanksgiving stuffing and nothing else will do…ever! They also assume that everyone else feels the same way too, and if they are coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, they are going to damn well bring some with them. I won’t mention any names, but one of these people gave birth to me.
Whenever I host Thanksgiving, which is often, I always make two different kinds of stuffing. One of them is always oyster stuffing. That is non-negotiable at my house. If I dared not make it, my husband would probably run away from home, or at the very least, pout all day. He loves it that much! I must admit, it is an oyster lover’s dream. Big, succulent oysters are surrounded by soft pillows of three different kinds of bread and soaked in eggs, butter and cream. What’s not to love?
I have a little more leeway with the other stuffing I choose. Unless I get a special request, I usually make my favorite, which is a cornbread, sausage and apple stuffing. My recipe for this has evolved over the years and is basically a mishmash of several different recipes I have collected. It is a really rich and flavorful dish, especially when I have the time to make a homemade turkey stock from the neck bones and giblets.
When I was growing up, my mother always, and I do mean always, made a basic white bread stuffing with Italian sausage and diced pepperoni in it. Now, it wasn’t a bad stuffing, mind you. I would actually say that it was pretty good. But, after thirty-something years of that same dish, wouldn’t it be nice to try something else? Isn’t variety the spice of life? I think so. However, not everybody agrees with me, if you know what I mean.
Every year that we gather at my house, come hell or high water, Mom lugs over a big old baking dish filled with – you guessed it – her trademark sausage and pepperoni stuffing. Never mind that there are already two different and perfectly wonderful stuffings already on the table. We shift everything around to make room for it. And so, the great stuffing war begins.
Anytime anyone asks for some stuffing, before I can even reach for the bowl, Mom has already piled their plate high with her interloper dish. The poor recipient, looking a bit dazed, obediently begins to eat what’s on the plate, all the while glancing longingly at the other choices he or she didn’t get to make. Pretty soon, people are resorting to hand signals and subtle eyebrow raising to get my attention. Plates are being surreptitiously passed to me under the table to be filled with some tender morsels of cornbread or oyster stuffing.
Of course, no one would ever say anything and risk hurting my mom’s feelings. She means well, and eating her stuffing is certainly no hardship. But, does she secretly hate my stuffing? Is she trying to spare me the humiliation in case the others hate my stuffing? Or, is she not quite ready to pass the Thanksgiving torch over to me? I think it must be difficult to go from years of being the “Hostess with the Mostest”, to being a mere guest at someone else’s table, especially someone whose diapers you once changed..
I wonder who she sees when she looks at me. Sometimes, when I look at my own daughter, I still see my four year old moppet, with golden ringlets and dimpled cheeks, even though she is now a teen. It is hard for me to accept the fact that she is growing up and getting more independent. Does my mother see me as I am now, or as the child I once was? Surely, she must realize that I’m a grown woman, capable of making my own stuffing. How could I not be? After all, I had her for a teacher.
Our Favorite Oyster Stuffing
4 cups day old white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 cups crumbled homemade cornbread (I use Jiffy brand)
1/2 of 15 oz package herb stuffing mix(I use Pepperidge Farm)
2 cups diced celery
1 large onion, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3-4 cups chicken broth (canned or homemade; amount depends upon the dryness of the breads)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
4 eggs, beaten
2 pints drained oysters (strain and reserve liquor)
- The day before: Prepare cornbread, if making, according to package directions. Leave exposed overnight.
- That day: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large casserole dish with non-stick spray and set aside. In a large bowl, combine breads and stuffing mix together and set aside.
- Saute celery and onion in butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Pour over bread mixture. Add broth, oyster liquor, cream, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and beaten eggs. Mix well. Gently mix in oysters and pour into the the casserole dish.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.
Cornbread, Sausage and Apple Stuffing
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 large sweet onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I use Golden Delicious, but any cooking apple will do.)
1 pound bulk breakfast sausage with sage (I use Jimmy Dean brand.)
4 cups crumbled day old corn bread
4 cups crumbled day old whole wheat bread
4 cups crumbled day old white bread
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
1-2 tsp. poultry seasoning, to taste if needed
4-5 cups turkey stock (homemade is best, but canned will work just fine)
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- The day before: Prepare cornbread according to the package instructions. Leave all breads exposed overnight to dry out.
- That day: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease or spray a large casserole or baking dish. Set aside. Put all of the breads into a large mixing bowl.
- Melt 4 tbsp. of the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, crumble and cook until lightly browned. Pour sausage, along with drippings over bread. Melt the rest of the butter and saute the apples, onions and celery over medium heat until soft and tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage and bread. Add thyme, sage, poultry seasoning, stock, eggs and parsley to the stuffing mixture and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Bake for about 35-40 minutes, then drizzle the top with a little of the pan drippings from your turkey. Bake another 15-20 minutes more, until the top is golden and crusty.