While many foods can be stuffed, and a variety of ingredients used, at the holidays we stuff turkey with bread and spices. Beyond that, the imagination has no limits. Did you know that the Victorians changed the traditional term ‘stuffing’, which they found offensive, to ‘dressing’? I know my grandmother’s recipe was always called Turkey Dressing even though when we talked about it we always said stuffing.
Stuffing is the most popular Christmas side dish in the United States. The American tradition of stuffing turkeys goes back to the early 19th century. The modern resurgence of stuffing, as well as its popularity as a side dish, began in the 1970s when Stove Top began offering boxed mixes. I’ve had Stove Top stuffing, by itself and in other recipes, but I prefer my grandmother’s recipe.
Many of the Northeastern states put oysters in their stuffing, and the Midwest uses sausage. In the South, the dish is called dressing and prepared outside the turkey. It absolutely must include cornbread. Making dressing as a casserole side dish became more popular when the USDA stated that inside the turkey, the dressing could not possibly reach the 165° needed to cook the turkey juices. I prefer white bread stuffing, cooked inside the turkey like my grandmother did.
Even though it’s my grandmother’s recipe, I never actually ate it when my grandmother prepared it. For us, it was a family affair. As children, my brother and I were in charge of tearing an entire loaf of stale white bread into chunks. As we tore them, we put the bread chunks into a large Tupperware cake carrier bowl. Many dogs through the years begged at our feet. They may have been tossed the odd bread bit. My father dragged out my grandmother’s old hand meat grinder so that my mother could use it to grind onion, bell pepper, and celery. Melted butter, salt and pepper, then the final touch—Bell’s poultry seasoning. My grandmother’s recipe specifically listed Bell’s, and my mother faithfully used Bell’s, too. It wasn’t until I was an adult and shopping for my own turkey dinner that I realized Bell’s was a brand of poultry seasoning, not a variety. Still, it’s the only one I’ll ever use for this stuffing.
Since it’s become a side dish, stuffing recipes have changed in recent years. Some include ingredients that never were there before, like eggs, bacon, raisins, cranberries, and apricots. For me, Stove Top cornbread stuffing is as much of a departure from my grandmother’s recipe as I’ve ever gone. In the end, the best ever turkey stuffing is the one you grew up with. Nothing else will do.
Try these other holiday posts I’ve written:
Christmas Desserts Around the World
Family Gathering for a Holiday
The Roll That Dared to be a Star
Holiday Cooking Traditions
At Mother’s Table
1 loaf white bread
1 large onion chopped
1 cup celery chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
2 tablespoons Bell’s poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cube butter melted
Tear bread slices into small chunks. Add rest of ingredients and stir to mix well. Stuff into a turkey and roast the turkey 13 minutes per pound at 325° until it is 165° internally.
To roast outside the turkey: Put in buttered casserole dish. Drizzle two tablespoons of turkey drippings over it. Put in oven for the last hour of turkey baking.
Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).