Grandma’s turkey stuffing

Thanksgiving has always been my second favorite holiday because when I was a kid, our family Thanksgiving made me feel a happy-family-ness, warmth, and love that were beyond our Scots-Irish/Norwegian family most of the time. Everyone (I think) felt the culinary highlight was the Thanksgiving turkey stuffing (sometimes called dressing interchangeably). Here’s how I remember it every Thanksgiving and Christmas watching my mom make the stuffing. Mom’s stuffing was identical to Grandma’s, a version she probably brought over from County Down.

The bird was always stuffed with any extra baked in a casserole (Note: I haven’t done this in years, although doing so adds lots of fresh turkey juice to the stuffing. These days I only make it as a side dish, sometimes a day early.)

  1. The night before Thanksgiving, while watching the Perry Como Christmas Special on TV (optional), Mom would tear a whole loaf of white bread (Wonder Bread or equivalent) into 1/2″ (on average) pieces and let them accumulate in a roasting pan. I think she sliced off the crusts first—but maybe not—it doesn’t seem to matter. She broke the bread into a large roasting pan or baking sheet. (Note: You have a decision to make—to crisp or not to crisp. If you want crispier, place the bread-laden pan in a 325º oven for 20 minutes to drive out some water and make more space for broth or turkey juice. Once the bread cubes have cooled to room temperature, leave them in the pan on the counter overnight, covered loosely with foil. If less crispy is OK, just leave the loosely-covered pan on the counter.)
  2. On the big day, sauté a couple of diced large yellow onions and celery (2:1) in lots of butter until they are softened, but not browned. (Note: You can do the whole job through Step 5 before turkey-day. In fact, I think the stuffing is better a day after coming out of the oven when the flavors have had a chance to get to know each other better.)
  3. Place bread in a large mixing bowl. Add buttery onion/celery mixture to bread. Grandma may have added an egg at this point for cohesion. I can’t remember. I like the idea. Add an egg if you choose. Add salt and pepper and mix together by hand. I don’t remember them adding any other seasoning and certainly not sage. (See below.)
  4. Add broth. Use the most flavorful broth around. I like chicken bone broth, or better yet, home-made chicken bone broth. Moisten all the bread pieces, but stop before things get soggy. Be careful; you can’t un-soggy them. I understand adding milk or cream for some or all of the broth is a good thing to enhance creaminess. I need to try that some time.
  5. Stuff the bird or bake in a buttered casserole at 350º-375º. I usually use our oven-proof 9×13 dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes or more until you see some toasting of the bread tops. Let the casserole rest for 15-30 minutes before serving. Spoon into a serving bowl; smother in gravy; heaven.

In my memory, this stuffing was moist and tasted like turkey-flavored, mushy bread with onions and celery accents. I cannot remember if there were any other ingredients, such as mushrooms, sausage, parsley, water chestnuts, or other seasonings, all of which I’ve had in other people’s stuffings over the years and enjoyed.

I do remember that when Aunt Shirley joined the family as Uncle Sam’s wife after Aunt Louise passed in 1954, she added sage to her version of stuffing. She was originally from Boston. This was not appreciated—the sage, not the fact that she was from Boston. We loved Aunt Shirley, and she was a great cook.

I have researched many stuffing recipes. There are as many variations as families and regions, it would seem. Mark Bittman (New York Times, etc.) prefers a crispier stuffing that does not produce “a compacted mass of bread soaked in turkey juice,” which is a perfect description of what I have always tried achieve in re-creating Grandma’ stuffing. Ooey-gooey turkey-flavored bread with onion and celery accents. That’s Thanksgiving bliss in my book.

Hope you have a special stuffing recipe and a great Thanksgiving this and every year.